The Chiefs moved into pole position in the battle for the top spot on the overall Vodacom Super Rugby log with an impressive 34-22 win over a rejuvenated Hurricanes team in Hamilton on Friday.
The champions clinched their four-try bonus point with five minutes to go, and fittingly it was big Ben Tameifuna who burrowed over for try No 4 as the Chiefs leapfrogged the Brumbies to go top of the log table, a position they should keep as they have a game in hand on the Australian team.
The result puts pressure on the Vodacom Bulls to keep winning in the remaining three weeks of the league phase if they want to have a chance of emulating the Stormers' achievement of last season by finishing top of the overall log.
It was fitting that Tameifuna should score as he had been the catalyst for a strong finish by the Chiefs after they had struggled for much of the first hour as their momentum was broken following the three week break for the international window.
Tameifuna came on for the last half hour and galvanised a scrum that effectively won the game for the hosts, who were perhaps lucky to be clinging to a two point lead up to that point.
The Hurricanes did most of the attacking in the third quarter, but just couldn’t get the score that might have made a difference to the end result.
Beauden Barrett, who was brilliant for most of the way with his kicking out of hand, didn’t help by producing a patchy performance with his place-kicking.
He missed a sitter with the Chiefs leading 17-15, which was the halftime score, and then shortly after that a Chiefs intercept saw play transferred into the Hurricanes half as Barrett, who did well to get back to scramble the intercept of his own flat pass.
The Hurricanes managed to wheel the scrum but then came a massive scrum from the Chiefs which won a penalty that Aaron Cruden had no trouble kicking to stretch the two point lead to five points.
That was in the 17th minute of the second half, and after that the Chiefs scrum, with Tameifuna at the forefront, just got stronger and stronger, and the Chiefs enjoyed the field position which made the pressure count.
A strong pick and drive surge towards the Hurricanes line just beyond the hour mark created an opportunity for Chiefs scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who scored the try that took the Chiefs into a 12 point lead that effectively stifled the Hurricanes’ hopes of an upset win.
The Tameifuna try made it 34-15 and a Hurricanes try from replacement Alapati Leiula with three minutes to go did nothing more than take some of the one-sidedness out of the scoreline.
But the Hurricanes deserve credit for their contribution to the game, which was played at a fast pace and which was a great spectacle from start to finish.
The Chiefs’ response was immediate, however, with No 8 Matt van Levent capitalising on a lineout turn-over near the left corner to reclaim a three point lead for the eventual winners.
Both flyhalves were brilliant with their field play, and an excellent kick through from Cruden found Bundee Aki for the Chiefs’ second try and a comfortable 17-7 lead.
The Hurricanes were definitely the better team for the second part of the first half though, and Barrett, with a strong break, featured strongly in the build-up to a try he scored to cut the deficit. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes he was wide with the conversion attempt.
Chiefs – Tries: Matt Vant- Leven, Bundee Aki, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Ben Tameifuna. Conversions: Aaron Cruden(4). Penalties: Cruden(2).
Hurricanes– Tries: TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Alapati Leiua. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2). Penalty: Barrett.