Hamilton’s Chiefs survived a late Super rugby comeback from the Brumbies to win 24-19 at FMG Stadium Waikato to keep the pressure on the Hurricanes in the New Zealand Conference.
The Brumbies scored all of their points in the second half after trailing 17-0 at the half time interval.
Both teams scored three tries each and the difference came down to kicks as Damien McKenzie was on target with all three conversions and a penalty while Christian Lealiifano missed a conversion and Wharenui Hawera kicked two.
The Brumbies will be left to rue missed opportunities, costly turnovers and a missed knock-down in the dying seconds which could have given the Brumbies a chance to win the game.
Proceedings started at a frenetic pace with both sides perhaps trying to play too much in the slippery Waikato conditions.
The home side opened the scoring in the 12th minute through the boot of Damian McKenzie who’s influence on the game would prove crucial.
Indeed it was typically graceful break from McKenzie that sparked the Chiefs attack. The diminutive flyhalf ghosted through the Brumbies defence, the Chiefs recycled and hooker Nathan Harris ducked over for the first try of the game which McKenzie converted.
The Brumbies were battering the Chiefs line minutes later having recovered well after going 10-0 down. The Chiefs forced a turnover, and McKenzie did the rest.
Seeming to glide over the grass, McKenzie moved into space, dummied then accelerated and the Brumbies defence could do nothing to stop him diving over for the Chiefs second try.
McKenzie added another two points making it 17-0 to the home side, which it remained as the whistle went for halftime.
It was much of the same in early parts of the second period, with the Brumbies really the better side in the game but making too many handling errors to affect the score.
The Brumbies finally got over through Henry Speight in the 54th minute, off a position-defying tip-on from Allan Alaalatoa.
Off the ensuing kick-off the Brumbies broke, through the inspirational David Pocock. Tom Banks found Andy Muirhead but the shifty winger just couldn’t get over the line.
The Brumbies camped on the Chiefs line and off a scrum, Joe Powell looked to find Speight with a loopy pass but instead found McKenzie who picked off the pass.
Banks ran him down somehow, but the Chiefs eventually scored through substitute Jonathan Faauli. A heart breaking score for the Brumbies, and given the late fightback, one which they’ll feel was the killer blow.
Down but not out, the Brumbies fought back. Wharenui Hawera, who was outstanding off the bench, got the Brumbies back in the game with a beautiful break offloading to Matt Lucas who found Tom Banks, the fullback dotting over for his eighth try of the year.
Again, the Brumbies built on that score off the restart and immediately got back down the other end to score another try, Speight going over off wonderfully executed move off the lineout.
The Chiefs had a chance to kill the game off with three minutes to play, but McKenzie’s penalty was pushed left. Pocock went quick from the 22 drop-off and retained possession for the Brumbies.
Buoyed by their star players endeavour and belief, the Brumbies marched down the field on attack in a last ditch attempt to snatch the victory.
The Brumbies still had a chance to keep finals hopes alive with time up. An inside ball was knocked down by the Chiefs, but the referee judged the Brumbies as the first to knock on.
Despite desperate attempts by Pocock to use the TMO to confirm that the Chiefs had infringed on the Brumbies, but his pleas were ignored and the Chiefs won the game leaving the Brumbies pondering what may have been.
Next week in the final round of the regular season the Brumbies play the Waratahs in Sydney while the Chiefs host the Hurricanes in Hamilton.
Final Score Chiefs 24 (17) Brumbies 19 (0)
Tries – N.Harris ,D.McKenzie, J.Fa’auli
Pen – D.McKenzie
Con – D.McKenzie 3
Cards – J.Parete (64th min yellow)
Tries – H.Speight 2, T.Banks
Con – W.Hawera 2
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 1:Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 2:Angus Mabey
TMO :Shane McDermott
15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Charlie Ngatai (co-captain), 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Johnny Fa’auli
15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tom Cusack, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements : 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli