July 4, 2014
The Chiefs kept alive their hopes of claiming three straight titles after they won 24-16 against the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday.
Victory puts the champions on 40 points with a trip to Auckland their final regular-season fixture while the Hurricanes hope for favours from elsewhere.
The result was fully deserved for the Chiefs, who showed a steeliness that was reminiscent of their previous two crowns back in 2012 and 2013.
The game opened with a handful of errors which, due to the knockout feel of the derby clash, was understandable as both outfits craved the four points. However, what wasn't excusable was that those mistakes continued with a quarter gone as players frequently kicked the ball out on the full.
It wasn't just in open play that blunders were being made as Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden missed the chance to open the scoring on nine minutes, slipping a penalty attempt to the left. He did make amends on 21 minutes though when Jeffery Toomaga-Allen was caught offside.
That slender advantage didn't last long, however, as Chiefs hooker Mahonri Schwalger's ruck offence led to 'Canes pivot Beauden Barrett sending over a long-range three points.
Four points off the play-off places pre-game, the Chiefs knew that a maximum would enhance their chances of defending their Super Rugby crown and therefore it wasn't surprising to see Cruden turn down three in decent territory, instead going for the lineout. Their intent was rewarded too as loosehead prop Jamie Mackintosh powered over from close range near to the posts, which allowed Cruden to knock over two points for 10-3.
Cruden would then cost his men three though when he was caught by referee Nick Briant advancing in front of the kicker on 34 minutes. But the four-point margin would be short-lived as Briant then pinged Toomaga-Allen for the same offence soon after the restart for 13-6.
The Chiefs had now begun to settle in Hamilton and were playing a good brand of powerful, offloading rugby and that was rewarded with a further penalty for 16-6 on the hooter.
Mark Hammett was livid at the break as he grabbed a word with Briant in the tunnel and it clearly had a positive effect on his charges who came back onto the field with purpose, Ardie Savea in particular shining in open play. Unfortunately his brother could not hold a key pass.
Julian Savea was struggling for the second successive week as another fumble after Barrett had cut the lead to seven points coughed up possession. However, he wasn't alone in feeling red faced when Barrett missed a long-range shot which never looked close from the moment he struck it. It was becoming more and more apparent the 'Canes were off colour.
And his opposite number made him pay with his fourth penalty of the game on 58 minutes after the Hurricanes were penalised by referee Briant for bringing down a rolling maul.
Cruden was a stand-out and it was his break that led to the Chiefs' second try of the game, with Brodie Retallick deemed to have grounded the ball close to the sideline. The missed extras meant it was 24-9 with the Hurricanes having seventeen minutes to save their year.
Hadleigh Parkes gave his side hope when he spun out of a tackle before grounding with his fingertips to make it 24-16 for a grandstand finish. But it was always going to be hard to recover against a relentless Chiefs defence as the champions live to fight another day.