Chiefs open up gap atop NZ Super Conference
The Chiefs again showed what a second-half Super Rugby powerhouse they are when they sank the Hurricanes 34-22 in Hamilton tonight.
The bonus-point victory after leading by just two points at the end of an even first half thrust them two points past the Brumbies to the top of the overall table on 61 points. They are 15 clear of the Crusaders atop the NZ Conference.
The home side dominated the last 30 minutes with their scrum in particular taking charge after the break.
With the Brumbies having only one game left to play and the Chiefs two, their biggest threat to overall home advantage for the playoffs would now appear to come from the third-placed Bulls in South Africa who are seven points back with a game in hand.
The Chiefs managed to have their noses in front going into halftime at 17-15, which is always a good omen for them, having won all 10 previous matches they've led at the break but lost the ones where they've trailed at the midway point.
But it was a close-run thing with the Hurricanes dominating possession and territory and matching the home side's two tries, just one Aaron Cruden conversion separating the teams as they went into the dressing rooms.
In fact Cruden missed a chance to put the Chiefs five points up at halftime when he missed a relatively straight forward penalty attempt from about 34 metres out to the left after the hooter.
Cruden had opened the scoring with a seventh-minute penalty goal from further out than that but it was Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara who got the first try in the 14th minute on the end of a 15-ruck sequence on attack for the visitors.
First-five Beauden Barrett almost had lock Jeremy Thrush over from a wipers kick to the right corner and when he came up short, Barrett was there to pick and go over with perfect low body position and the weight of flanker Karl Lowe behind him.
But the Chiefs fired straight back, winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma catching Cruden's restart on the full and taking the attack straight to the Hurricanes' line before a lineout steal by skipper Craig Clarke provided surprise attacking ball for No8 Matt Vant Leven to charge over for a try.
Cruden's conversion made it 10-7 and in the 25th minute second-five Bundee Aki scored from a clever scrum blindside move for Cruden to make it 17-7. Fullback Robbie Robinson rushed up as the decoy in the move to give Cruden room to slide a well-weighted kick through to the in-goal and Aki won the race to touch down.
This time it was Hurricanes who came steaming back and stretched the Chiefs in both directions before Barrett made the most of a slight numbers advantage and charged between two defenders who were unable to stop him grounding the ball in the in-goal area.
The Chiefs put themselves under early pressure with turnover errors but Barrett also missed a relatively easy penalty chance and Cruden picked up a timely intercept that got the home side down the other end putting on pressure with a 5m scrum. The Hurricanes screwed that scrum to get the put-in but the Chiefs put in a huge scrum in retaliation, got the penalty and Cruden kicked the goal to make it 20-15.
The Chiefs scrum with replacements Ben Tameifuna and Mahonri Schwalger started to dominate and become a key factor in the game and when they got to put more pressure on the Hurricanes in the red zone a missed touchfinder by Barrett proved costly.
It resulted in a 63rd minute try to Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, cleared of any obstruction by TMO Glen Newman, after a sizzling midfield break by Lelia Masaga running back the Barrett stray kick and Cruden's conversion opened out the lead to 27-15.
When Tameifuna powered over for the bonus-point try from a pick-and-go attack on the Hurricanes' line by the posts with a little help from his mates and Cruden converted, the game was safe at 34-15, even though replacement winger Alapati Leiua scored a consolation try straight after for the visitors.
It was the first time the Chiefs have scored seven try-scoring bonus points in one season and they now have 44 tries in 2013.
Chiefs 34 (Matt Vant Leven, Bundee Aki, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Ben Tameifuna tries; Aaron Cruden 4 conversions, 2 penalty goals) Hurricanes 22 (TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Alapati Leiua tries; Barrett 2 conversions, penalty goal). HT: 17-15