Rugby: Hurricanes one win away from glory

By Kris Shannon

Hurricanes 25 Chiefs 9

The Hurricanes are just 80 minutes away from ending 21 years of hurt.

Last season's runners-up will host the Super Rugby final for the second straight campaign, proving far too strong for the Chiefs tonight to move within a win of their maiden title.

From shipping 50 points in their opening game to punching their ticket for the competition showpiece, the season has been dotted with the Hurricanes' typical inconsistency. But, having suddenly become unstoppable at the ideal time, it could end with a completely atypical result.

Tonight's victory was the Hurricanes' seventh in a row, they will next week welcome yet another a team who were forced to travel back from South Africa and, Dane Coles' injury aside, everything is breaking right for Chris Boyd's side.

That's not to suggest their winning run has been built on a base of fortune. Far from it. These Hurricanes defend with a level of solidity that should render impossible their forwards' incredible athleticism, while there are so many game-breakers in the backline that Julian Savea could very well start the final once more on the bench.

And at the centre of it all has been the play of Beauden Barrett. Perhaps the best thing that happened to the Hurricanes' season was the injury suffered by Aaron Cruden in the June internationals, because Barrett's subsequent performances in black appear to have infused him with an almost untouchable level of confidence.

His virtuoso effort was the defining factor in the Hurricanes' quarter-final crushing of the Sharks and the first five again put his side in front tonight. Although, the home side certainly enjoyed a helping hand from their opposition, whose profligacy in the opening half was equally influential as Barrett's brilliance.

A spell that began with the Chiefs camped on the Hurricanes' line ended with the course of the match altered, after a succession of penalties led to progression of scrums from which the visitors earned no reward. Squandering so many chances would have created a couple of prevailing emotions among the Chiefs: frustration at failing to crack the Hurricanes' line and regret for turning down so many shots at goal.

But, at the same time, the home side deserved an immense amount of credit for tackling the Chiefs to a standstill, unleashing a few huge hits to sow the seed of doubt in their opponents' minds. And just when they looked like conceding the penalty that would have compelled referee Angus Gardner to reach into his pocket, the Hurricanes broke clear through the outstanding Ardie Savea to vividly illustrated their danger from all parts of the field.

That attribute was exemplified in the two first-half tries that put the hosts in charge, with Barrett playing a part in both. They each arrived with a stroke of luck - a fortuitous bounce helped spark a scintillating run that led to Willis Halaholo's opener, while Sam Cane could hardly have picked out his All Blacks teammate any cleaner for Barrett's intercept try - but it was no more than they deserved.

Because both tries also owed massively to Barrett's vision and anticipation, continuing an incredible roll for the man many are hoping has leap-frogged Cruden in the first five rankings.

The Chiefs pivot was quiet throughout, initially outshone by the clean running and audacious passing of Damian McKenzie, and Dave Rennie's side did occasionally lack the direction required to excel in such a white-hot atmosphere, especially during an aimless second spell.

They certainly weren't lacking in set piece dominance, enjoying a level of ascendancy at scrum time that belied the struggles they endured on the same park while earning a controversial win in April. But their strength in the scrum, like many other aspects of the game, amounted to exactly nothing.

In fact, it was from a scrum that the Hurricanes essentially sealed the contest through Victor Vito's try, allowing a nerveless conclusion as they fixed their eyes on a drought-breaking title.

Hurricanes 25 (W. Halaholo, B. Barrett, V. Vito tries; B. Barrett 2 pens, 2 cons)
Chiefs 9 (D. McKenzie 3 pens)
Halftime: 15-6

- NZ Herald

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