UPDATE: Chiefs cement top spot
SUPER WRAP: The Chiefs rediscovered their winning form with a grinding 23-12 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday to cement their place at the top of the Super Rugby Pacific standings.
All Blacks lock Tupou Vaa’i scored two of the Chiefs’ three tries in miserable conditions in Hamilton to bounce back from last week’s shock 25-22 loss to the Queensland Reds – their first defeat of the season.
Up 10-0 at halftime, the home side looked comfortably placed when Vaa’i then bagged his second try as the pouring rain grew in intensity.
However, tries against the run of play to Hurricanes fullback Josh Moorby and No.8 Brayden Iose within the space of 10 minutes closed the gap to eight points entering the final stages.
Flyhalf Damian McKenzie went on to land two penalties to seal his team’s 11th win from 12 games and lift his own season tally to a competition-high 137 points.
McKenzie’s kicking in general play was also influential as a Chiefs side featuring 10 All Blacks in their starting team largely controlled proceedings against the weakened Hurricanes.
Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane praised his team’s adherence to a no-frills game plan in the sodden conditions.
“When we come to this point of the season, the weather changes and I think the rugby we play has to change accordingly,” All Blacks skipper Cane told broadcaster Sky Sport.
“It was always going to be a battle of the forwards once the weather came in like that. It won’t be pieces of individual brilliance that win games at this point of the season. It’ll be a real collective effort.”
The visitors chose to omit a number of players under the All Blacks’ resting protocols – including captain Ardie Savea and star back Jordie Barrett.
The Hurricanes remain fifth after losing three of their last five games and face a challenge to push for a top-four home quarter-final, with their two remaining regular season fixtures both challenging all-New Zealand affairs against the Blues and Crusaders.
The Chiefs face a two-match tour of Australia before the playoffs, including a key match against title rivals the Brumbies in Canberra next week.
*Young fullback Max Jorgensen showed his playmaking skills as the NSW Waratahs maintained their late-season Super Rugby Pacific surge with a 32-18 home win over Fijian Drua In Sydney.
NSW secured a fourth straight win, scoring five tries to two to consolidate sixth place.
At times the Tahs appeared to produce plays out of the Fijian playbook with some sensational offloads and one-handed passes, but also had to make twice as many tackles as their opponents.
Jorgensen’s one-handed passes set up first-half tries to his wings Mark Nawaqanitawase and Dylan Pietsch and he threw a more conventional pass for the match-clinching try to No.8 Lange Gleeson in the 71st minute.
Substitute forward Mahe Vailanu crashed over just before the end to put the Tahs out of sight.
Early on, Fijian Drua five-eighth Caleb Muntz kept his side in the game in the first half with two penalties.
He opened the scoring In the seventh minute but that was the only lead the visitors held.
Three minutes later, good leadup work from flank Michael Hooper, Pietsch, centre Joey Walton and Jorgensen set up Wallabies back Nawaqanitawase.
Muntz’s second penalty got Drua to within one point and Jorgensen preserved the home team’s lead with a fine try-saving tackle on visiting winger Taniela Rakuro.
A crucial twist occurred right on halftime as two penalties pushed the Tahs deep into Drua territory and Jorgensen put Pietsch over.
Flyhalf Ben Donaldson converted to give NSW a 13-6 lead at the break.
Both sides had good passages early in the second half, but it was Drua who inflicted the first scoring punch.
Hooker Tevita Ikanivere burrowed over for a try which wasn’t initially awarded by referee Ben O’Keefe, but was given after the incident was reviewed.
The highlight of the match came in the 64th minute when one-handed passes from Jorgensen and Nawaqanitawase sent centre Joey Walton down the sideline and he managed to offload just before being bundled into touch, with Nawaqanitawase catching the ball and crossing the line.
Drua weren’t finished, and, roared on by their many supporters, got within two points in the 68th minute when flanker Joseva Tamani pounced on a loose lineout ball and scooted over the line.
The Tahs finished stronger, with Jorgensen passing to Gleeson, who emphatically bumped off a defender and crashed his way over the line, Vailanu doing likewise a few minutes later.
*Earlier, the Melbourne Rebels’ slim hopes of making the Super Rugby Pacific finals have suffered a hammer blow after their clash with the Highlanders ended in heartbreaking fashion in Dunedin.
As the match looked headed towards golden point, Highlanders centre Sam Gilbert booted the winning penalty in the 84th minute to break the deadlock and seal a 20-17 victory.
Both teams went into Saturday’s game on 15 points, three outside of the finals-bound top eight and desperate for victory.
Gilbert stepped up after Rebels No.8 Richard Hardwick, who had been one of their best, was pinged at the breakdown – one of a number of suspect calls by referee Paul Williams.
Highlanders wing Jona Nareki somehow avoided a penalty despite dragging a Rebels player by the foot after he was tackled, which contributed to a Melbourne knock-on as they hunted a match-winning try at the death.
While frustrated Melbourne coach Kevin Foote said his team didn’t do themselves any favours with 17 turnovers, he was unhappy with the refereeing inconsistencies.
“I’m disappointed in some of those decisions,” Foote told AAP.
“We’re going to have to look hard at them but I think there’s a lack of consistency across the board.
“There was a lot of off-the-ball stuff as well and we’ve got the fourth official [Television Match Official] and some of it’s guessing and some of it’s not even accurate.”
Melbourne were forced to play the final 10 minutes with 14 men after Jordan Uelese was given a yellow card after the reserve hooker brought down a Highlanders player without the ball, mistiming his tackle.
It was a heavy price with Gilbert also booting a penalty to tie up the match at 17-17.
With in-form playmaker Carter Gordon missing the match with a bruised knee and Reece Hodge at flyhalf for the first time this season, Melbourne’s attack lacked punch and polish early on.
The Highlanders also made life difficult for the visitors at the breakdown by playing usual loose forwards All Black Shannon Frizell and Max Hicks in the second-row.
The home side looked to have crossed after two minutes but Rebels winger Lachie Anderson somehow got his hand under the ball to stop Gilbert grounding it.
Former Sevens star Anderson also pulled off a try-saving tackle later in the half when he bumped a surging Sean Withy into touch.
Fullback Andrew Kellaway also got in on the action when managed to roll and hold up Highlanders flank James Lentjes over the line in the 75th minute.
The Highlanders did manage to score in the 13th minute through fullback Connor Garden-Bachop before Melbourne levelled when Hardwick dived across from the back of the ruck.
With turnovers cruelling the Rebels’ attack, the Dunedin side went into halftime up 14-7 after All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot broke through.
Melbourne again locked up the game when centre Stacey Ili found a hole and then a Hodge penalty gave the team a 17-14 lead.
But it didn’t prove enough to keep the home side at bay, with Melbourne’s season now effectively over with two rounds to play.
“A lot was riding on it [the result] but every week has been like that we’re just not finishing at the end,” Foote said.
“It’s going to depend on a couple of results unfortunately but I think we’ve played well this year, we just haven’t got the results.”
The Western Force have snapped a 14-match losing streak against the Brumbies with a 34-19 triumph over the “little puppies” at HBF Park.
The Brumbies entered Saturday night’s match missing Wallabies stars James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Len Ikitau and Tom Wright as part of Rugby Australia’s World Cup resting policy.
In the lead-up to the match, Force hooker Folau Fainga’a said the mass changes meant the Brumbies were sending over the “little puppies” to allow the “big dogs” to rest at home and get their necks massaged.
The Force raced out to a 21-0 lead inside 25 minutes, then weathered a Brumbies fightback before going on to secure the four-tries-to-three victory.
The triumph was the Force’s first win over the Brumbies since 2013.
More importantly, the Force’s fifth straight win at home this season ensured they ended the round in eighth spot, three points ahead of the ninth-placed Highlanders.
The Force finish their campaign with games against the Rebels (away) and ladder-leading Chiefs (home), and one more win might be enough to secure a finals berth.
But Saturday night’s win came at a big cost, with Wallabies prop Tom Robertson injuring his left knee in the 51st minute.
Robertson was on crutches at the end of the match.
“I’m unclear right now on (exactly) what it is,” Force coach Simon Cron said of the injury.
“They will take the time to do the scans, just check everything out with him.
“He’s a beautiful man. We love him, he’s a big part of our team, and we want him to get well as quick as he can.”
Force playmaker Max Burey played an influential role in the win, nailing all four of his conversion attempts as well as two penalties in a perfect kicking display.
The Force made a blistering start to the match with tries to Felix Kalapu, Hamish Stewart and Sam Spink.
The Brumbies had their first try of the night in the 28th minute when flanker Charlie Cale got on the end of a sizzling fast break.
And it was game on when Wallabies lock Darcy Swain touched down in the 34th minute, reducing the halftime margin to nine points.
Fainga’a had fun against his former Brumbies teammates in the first half.
After stealing a wayward line-out and booting it forward to find touch, Fainga’a raised his hand in a celebratory gesture.
He couldn’t help but have a laugh after stealing another line-out shortly before the break.
The Brumbies dominated long periods of the second half, but their only reward was a 53rd-minute try to Luke Reimer.
The Force defended their five-point lead for long stretches, and their determination was rewarded in the 70th minute when a series of pick-and-goes near the line resulted in a try to Marley Pearce.
Force playmaker Max Burey nailed the sideline conversion, and he repeated the dose with a 74th-minute penalty to seal the win.
“Very inconsistent across the board,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said of his team’s performance.
“I don’t think there was an area we were better than the Force tonight.
“We just made a lot of mistakes, whether it was set piece mistakes or individual mistakes that stopped us getting momentum.”
The results and scorers!
Chiefs 23-12 Hurricanes
Tries: Taukei’aho, Vaa’i 2.
Pens: McKenzie 2
Tries: Moorby, Iose
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Pita Gus Sowakula, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 George Dyer, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Tyrone Thompson, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 John Ryan, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Cortez Ratima, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Rameka Poihipi
Hurricanes: 15 Josh Moorby, 14 Julian Savea (captain), 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 11 Kini Naholo, 10 Aidan Morgan, 9 Cam Roigard, 8 Brayden Iose, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Devan Flanders, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Jacob Devery, 1 Xavier Numia
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Pasilio Tosi, 19 Justin Sangster, 20 Caleb Delany, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Riley Hohepa, 23 Salesi Rayasi
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Jono Bredin & Fraser Hannon
TMO: Chris Hart
Waratahs 32-18 Fijian Drua
Tries: Vailanu, Gleeson, Nawaqanitawase 2, Pietsch
Cons: Donaldson 2
For Fijian Drua:
Tries: Tamani, Ikanivere
Pens: Muntz 2
Waratahs: 15 Max Jorgensen, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Joey Walton, 11 Dylan Pietsch, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Jake Gordon (captain), 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Will Harris, 5 Hugh Sinclair, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Te Tera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Archer Holz, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Taleni Seu, 21 Charlie Gamble, 22 Teddy Wilson, 23 Harry Wilson
Fijian Drua: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Iosefo Masi, 12 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11 Taniela Rakuro, 10 Caleb Muntz, 9 Peni Matawalu, 8 Meli Derenalagi (captain), 7 Vilive Miramira, 6 Joseva Tamani, 5 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Jone Koroiduadua, 2 Tevita Ikanivere, 1 Haereiti Hetet
Replacements: 16 Zuriel Togiatama, 17 Emosi Tuqiri, 18 Mesake Doge, 19 Etonia Waqa, 20 Elia Canakaivata, 21 Philip Baselala, 22 Kemu Valetini, 23 Apisalome Vota
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Stu Curran & Jackson Henshaw
TMO: Shane McDermott
Highlanders 20-17 Melbourne Rebels
Tries: Garden-Bachop, De Groot
Cons: Gilbert 2
Pens: Gilbert 2
For Melbourne Rebels:
Tries: Hardwick, Ili
Cons: Hodge 2
Yellow card: Jordan Uelese (Melbourne Rebels, 70)
Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon (captain), 6 Sean Withy, 5 Max Hicks, 4 Shannon Frizell, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 20 James Lentjes, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Lachlan Anderson, 13 Lukas Ripley, 12 Stacey Ili, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Brad Wilkin (captain), 6 Vaiolini Ekuasi, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Josh Canham, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Matt Gibbon
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Isaac Aedo Kailea, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Trevor Hosea, 20 Tamati Ioane, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Nick Jooste, 23 Joe Pincus
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant referees: Dan Waenga & Mike Winter
TMO: Richard Kelly
Western Force 34-19 Brumbies
For Western Force:
Tries: Pearce, Spink, Stewart, Kalapu
Cons: Burey 4
Pens: Burey 2
Tries: Reimer, Swain, Cale
Cons: Lonergan 2
Western Force: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Zach Kibirge, 13 Sam Spink, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Max Burey, 9 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 8 Rahboni Vosayaco, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Michael Wells (captain), 5 Felix Kalapu, 4 Jeremy Williams, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Angus Warner
Replacements: 16 Tom Horton, 17 Marley Pearce, 18 Siosifa Amone, 19 Tim Anstee, 20 Isi Naisarani, 21 Ian Prior, 22 George Poolman, 23 Toni Pulu
Brumbies: 15 Andy Muirhead, 14 Ollie Sapsford, 13 Hudson Creighton, 12 Tamati Tua, 11 Corey Toole, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ryan Lonergan (captain), 8 Pete Samu, 7 Rory Scott, 6 Charlie Cale, 5 Tom Hooper, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Rhys Van Nek, 2 Billy Pollard, 1 Blake Schoupp
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Fred Kaihea, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Jack Wright, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Klayton Thorn, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jesse Mogg
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper & Jordan Kaminski
TMO: Kyle Burnett