By Jake Beleski
CHIEFS 26 HURRICANES 18
Poor discipline and an inability to adapt to the pressure put on them by a physical Chiefs side consigned the Hurricanes to their first defeat of 2017 on Friday.
The torrential rain played its part, but the Hurricanes were their own worst enemy as a golden opportunity to take a stranglehold of the New Zealand conference slipped through their grasp.
The final score of 26-18 flattered the Hurricanes, who for the majority of the match struggled to get out of their own half.
The sides appeared evenly matched in the early stages, with both looking to assert their dominance through their physicality.
The Chiefs’ first raid on the Hurricanes’ line led to a string of penalties, with flanker Ardie Savea eventually sent to the sin-bin.
The Chiefs capitalised immediately, with lock Brodie Retallick smashing his way through TJ Perenara from close range to score the first try.
As Savea prepared to re-enter the match, Michael Fatialofa was yellow-carded for a blatant shoulder charge, leaving the Hurricanes desperately scrambling for another 10 minutes with only 14 defenders.
The Chiefs failed to score in his absence, but just before halftime they struck a pivotal blow.
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow found space on the blind-side of the scrum, before chipping towards the in-goal area.
Winger Toni Pulu won the race to the ball, leaving the Hurricanes heading to the break facing a 17-6 deficit.
The second half produced more of the same, as the Chiefs continued to dominate possession and territory, with the Hurricanes barely hanging on.
The level of physicality continued to reach new heights, with a number of incidents away from the ball prompting referee Brendon Pickerill to have frequent meetings with the two captains.
The Chiefs extended their lead with a penalty, before the Hurricanes finally clicked into gear in the final quarter.
TJ Perenara crossed in the 63rd minute after a sustained build-up, and all of a sudden the momentum had shifted.
A gilt-edged opportunity was missed when replacement Jordie Barrett sliced through with only the fullback to beat, but his pass to the unmarked Callum Gibbins went to ground.
Chiefs No 8 Michael Leitch was yellow-carded with three minutes left for a high tackle, and Hurricanes’ winger Julian Savea crossed in the corner to close the gap to 23-18 with less than a minute left.
That left the Hurricanes with one opportunity to go the length of the field, but the conditions ensured that was always going to be a tough ask.
Eventually they conceded a penalty, allowing Chiefs’ fullback Damian McKenzie to kick a final penalty and deny the Hurricanes a losing bonus point.
Scorers: Chiefs 26 (Retallick, Pulu tries; McKenzie 2 con, 4 pen) Hurricanes 18 (Perenara, J. Savea tries; B. Barrett con, 2 pen).