Two tries on top of a glittering display from Ma'a Nonu helped the Hurricanes to a bonus-point 33-27 win over the Chiefs.
Two tries on top of a glittering display from Ma'a Nonu helped the Hurricanes to a bonus-point 33-27 win over the Chiefs on Saturday, keeping their Super 14 semi-final hopes alive.
Needing all five points, the 'Canes shipped four tries to their visitors in the first half-hour with a variety of errors. It made for an enthralling second half as the home side sought to atone, but it will not make for a pleasant final memory for Colin Cooper's last Super Rugby campaign.
Yet they are nothing if not spirited and tenacious, and rode out some heavy pressure while always seeking a way through and round the Chiefs defence. It looked all but over, then Hosea Gear's break set Nonu away for the third try and Neemia Tialata dived over triumphantly at the death for the crucial fourth.
It will have eradicated the memories of a first half-hour the 'Canes will want to forget but will need to look at ahead of the next two matches against the Reds and Waratahs, in which wins will guarantee a semi-final spot now.
At the end of it they trailed 24-8 and were pretty good value for it. Balls were turned over, easy restarts dropped, kicks missed. It was very very average from a team far too desperate to force an issue.
The match started well enough, with Aaron Cruden knocking over an early penalty, but it was Cruden who took his eye off the ball at the restart, allowing Jackson Willison to scoop up and race away for the opening try.
The home side still had some rhythm though, and after a spell of pressure, Nonu's initial thrust was finished off by Cory Jane, with Cruden missing the conversion to leave the lead at one point.
For the next quarter of an hour, it all went horribly wrong for the home side. Sona Taumalolo drove home from the side of a ruck to make it 12-8. Turnover ball in the Hurricanes 22 went to Tim Nanai-Williams, who skipped through the line to make it 17-8. At the back of a scrum, Rodney So'oialo's attempted flick to Tyson Keats was picked off by Liam Messam. 24-8 with Bruce's second conversion. The home side looked shell-shocked.
But they regrouped and managed a score before the break to restore some belief. Nonu it was, finishing off some good work by Cruden, Keats and himself, cantering under the posts with Cruden converting to make it 24-15 at the break.
Although far more open, the first half hour of the second half yielded no tries, as defences scrambled breathlessly. Instead, penalties from Cruden and Piri Weepu added to the Hurricanes' tally, while Bruce added three to the Chiefs' tally. Both kickers could have had more, especially Bruce, but it seems the anti-kicking virus is not yet out of the Chiefs' systems.
Into the final ten minutes and the Hurricanes were still only a score behind, but needing two more tries for that extra point.
The Chiefs had the pressure on, but then a turnover ball was popped to Hosea Gear, whose pace took him to halfway, where he found the power of Nonu. Nonu, gassed one defender, fended off two more and crashed over the line, with Weepu converting to give his side the lead.
More drama though. Karl Lowe was caught off his feet and Bruce had a chance to give the Chiefs the lead. He hooked it horribly.
The Hurricanes then won their own 22 and raced downfield, with Nonu again prominent in the move. Back the ball came left and Tialata, with the help of Paterson, was driven over for the clinching score.
The Reds visit the Cake Tin next week. We can't wait – this has been the most memorable Super Rugby tournament in years.
Man of the match: You can't look any further than Ma'a Nonu. He was magnificent.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Jane, Nonu 2, Tialatas
Cons: Cruden, Weepu
Pens: Cruden 2, Weepu
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Willison, Taumalolo, Nanai-Williams, Messam
Cons: Bruce 2
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (capt), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Jason Kawau.
Chiefs: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Jason Hona, 10 Callum Bruce, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Colin Bourke, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (capt), 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche/Vern Kamo, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Kevin O'Neill, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Trent Renata, 22 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)