The Chiefs beat the Hurricanes 28-24 in a fierce New Zealand derby at a drenched FMG Stadium, Waikato.
This was a Battle Royale. The Chiefs needed to win the match by 23 points to finish fourth and jump ahead of the Hurricanes on the Super Rugby log, but they fell short after a great start.
Waikato raced to a 21-nil halftime lead after tries by Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber and Solomon Alaimalo, stunned the visitors in the rain, keeping them scoreless in the first-half.
The Hurricanes hit back after the break, scoring three unanswered tries from Wes Goosen, Blade Thomson and Ben May, to make it 21-19 with 14 minutes remaining.
Johnny Fa’auli was sent off for a shoulder charge on Goosen’s head before May’s try, scuppering any chance of a comeback in Liam Messam’s last game in Hamilton.
Mitchell Karpik, who was fantastic, scored moments after May, but Julian Savea, with the last play of the game, scored his 48th Super Rugby try to finish an epic Kiwi clash.
The hosts finish fifth and will replay the visitors in Wellington, in next week’s playoffs.
Chiefs scintillating start catches Hurricanes napping.
This was no dead-rubber, although a highly unlikely 23-point win for the home team was fanciful if not unrealistic.
The Chiefs had won three of their previous four regular-season games against the Hurricanes.
The Wellington side had only won once in their past eight encounters in Waikato, although the visitors had won six of their last eight New Zealand derbies.
The Chiefs had to make a bunch of late changes before kick-off, but it did not seem to phase them.
There was no Damian McKenzie, Tyler Ardron or Charlie Ngatai, who was out with flu.
The Hamilton side, despite the disruptions, started stronger and had many of the referee’s early calls, go their way.
Retallick crashed over from close range after eight minutes.
Toni Pulu’s initial break inside the Hurricanes 22, set-up the score.
Weber struck 10 minutes’ later, intercepting a wasteful Beauden Barrett and running 65 metres to put his side 12-nil ahead.
Alaimalo and Anton Lienert-Brown defended at first and second receiver with Marty McKenzie – in at first-five eight for his brother – defended the outside channel.
It worked a treat. TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and the Canes loose forwards could not get over the advantage line.
They were halted in their tracks at every attack.
Lachlan Boshier and Karpik had a field day at the breakdown, stopping every promising attack as the opposition struggled in the wet conditions.
It got worse for the away team before the half-hour.
Fa’auli’s kick was chased and kicked forward by Shaun Stevenson, who regathered after Jordie Barrett made a hash of his grubber.
Stevenson drew the defender and popped to Alaimalo, who raced away. Marty McKenzie’s third conversion made it three goals to nil.
It was the first time in Super Rugby that a side had kept the opposition without scoring in the first-half for three consecutive matches.
Hurricanes strike back after the break.
If the first 40 minutes was all chiefs, the next 30 belonged to the visitors.
The Chiefs have had 61 percent territory and 53 percent possession in the first-half, spending 3 minutes 54 seconds inside the Hurricanes 22 to just 68 seconds by the Canes.
But the game changed quickly in the second stanza with Chris Boyd’s men scoring 19 unanswered points.
Ben Lam, who has been stuck on 14 tries for an age, set-up Goosen with a lovely inside ball for the men in yellow’s opening try.
Lam made a swerving run, slipping a tackle before giving an inside ball to the outside centre.
Too many handling mistakes and misplaced passes were killing the visitors but at the beginning of the third quarter.
Thomson crashed over from close range after powering through two defenders.
From being two points away from forcing a return to Hamilton next week, the Chiefs found themselves needing 15 three scores in 20 minutes.
Their chances went from improbable to impossible when they found themselves down to 14 after Fa’auli was red-carded three minutes’ later.
Messam, to huge cheers, entered for his final game in Waikato, but even he could not stop the yellow tide.
Another Hurricanes surge ended with five points after a driving maul. May got up with the ball, Jordie Barrett missed his conversion, and it was a two-point ball-game.
Any chance of a home playoff was long gone, but it did not stop Weber from breaking blind and setting up Karpik’s try.
But it was Julian Savea who had the last word.
These two teams will do it all again next weekend.
Chiefs versus Hurricanes video highlights.
Final score: Chiefs 28 (21) Hurricanes 24 (0)
Tries – Retallick, Weber, Alaimalo, Karpik
Con – M. McKenzie (4)
Cards – Fa’auli (Red, 63′)
Tries – Goosen, Thomson, May, J. Savea
Con – J. Barrett (2)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Richard Kelly
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Ben Skeen
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa’auli, 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Jesse Parete, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao-Matau, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Luke Jacobson, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Tiaan Falcon, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Wes Goosen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith,
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Julian Savea.