Champion Chiefs put to the sword by Canes
Super Rugby's defending champion Chiefs suddenly have some work to do after toppling out of the top six on the back of a 45-8 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington tonight.
The most worrying thing for Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will be that his side didn't really fire a shot as they tumbled off the top of the New Zealand Conference.
The trademark defensive tenacity that has marked their stuttering season was absent against a Hurricanes side that ran in six tries and simply wanted to win this match more.
The Chiefs must now take a tricky road to the playoffs starting in New Plymouth against new Australian Conference leaders the Waratahs and with trips to Dunedin and Auckland to come along with a rematch against the Hurricanes.
Coach Mark Hammett's side remain firmly in the playoff hunt as they head to Eden Park next Saturday, the first of only three more matches this season.
The good omens are mounting for the Hurricanes. Their attack has often been great in patches this year, but against the Chiefs it was as relentless as it was potent.
First five-eighth Beauden Barrett shone and outside him Alapati Leiua reinforced how crucial he is to the side's success next to an ever-present Conrad Smith.
Most significantly for Hammett, a week after holding the Highlanders try-less, his side held the Chiefs' attack to just a solitary Liam Squire try.
The win did come at a cost with fullback Andre Taylor stretchered off after 42 minutes with a serious leg injury and prop Ben Franks leaving the field at the same time with a groin injury.
But during a season of sometimes kick-heavy rugby, it was a shame there weren't more than 10,670 in attendance for a match between two sides with a will to run.
The Chiefs tried, but with a still faltering lineout and scant Hurricanes errors to feed off, their backline never got out of neutral.
All Blacks pivot Aaron Cruden made his much-awaited return with half an hour to play, but his timing was off from the start.
The moment he came on the Hurricanes scored a sublime try that would have warmed backs coach Alama Ieremia's heart.
Barrett wrapped in the midfield, wing Cory Jane injected himself in from the blindside to feed Julian Savea for his second try.
It gave the Hurricanes an all important four-try bonus point and Barrett's sideline conversion cleared his side out to a 31-8 lead they were never going to lose.
Tries to loose forwards Jack Lam and Brad Shields would finish the job before the end of what could only be described as a drubbing.
It was fitting the pair scored late, Shields off a skilful inside ball from No 8 Victor Vito, because the Hurricanes loosies dominated their more heralded opposites.
The first try of the match proved a sign of things to come, a quick throw in, a Savea burst and a try to Taylor after just three minutes.
Some teams search and find space out wide. The Chiefs prefer to look closer to the action and it was behind the Hurricanes ruck they probed from the start.
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow had his antennae up and probe after probe saw Squire, a temporary blood bin replacement, bag his first Super Rugby try and a 8-7 lead for the visitors.
But this wasn't a night for long patches of inaction, nor a night for the Chiefs.
The Hurricanes hadn't turned up to wonder later. They moved the ball like a side on a mission. They played at a pace even the up-tempo defending champions couldn't match.
Their second try was a gem. Taylor found a half gap from a set piece and off-loaded inside to Jane. Leiua, Barrett, and hooker Dane Coles would all handle before Franks crashed over.
When Sam Cane fumbled the ball, Leiua was gone in an instant with Savea over for his side's third try in half an hour and a handy 21-8 halftime lead.
Hurricanes 45 (Julian Saeva 2, Andre Taylor, Ben Franks, Jack Lam, Brad Shields tries, Beauden Barrett six cons, pen) Chiefs 8 (Liam Squire try, Gareth Anscombe pen). HT: 21-8.