Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Hurricanes x-factor sparks magic win

Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There's nothing quite like x-factor to get the job done. And there's no one with x-factor like Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea.

These two were a magical double act who took it in turns to pull off the impossible and pile on the misery for the Chiefs. There was no limit to what they were able to do - score tries, save tries, make tries and dig into their respective bag of tricks every few minutes to do something that mattered.

The importance of their work was enormous. Their high-end contributions were so critical as the Hurricanes didn't have the supply of possession they were after or the territory.

They had to make the most of anything and everything they had and that was what Barrett and Savea did.

Long renowned as the best replacement in test rugby, Barrett may now, in fact, be the most influential player in all rugby. Full stop.

His contribution could hardly have been more telling in tonight's semifinal. Both teams flew off the defensive line, flinging bodies into the collisions and breakdown and there was this blur of bodies around the ball all game.

Operating to a different beat was Barrett. He was the man who could see the space no one else could and was the man who could pull off the impossible. He created the first try when he looked up, saw some space and beautifully dropped the ball on the outside of his boot knowing that would send the ball bouncing back his way as he chased after it.

Stunning. Just stunning and so, too, was the way he arced out at pace after gathering and had the presence of mind to take his time before passing off the deck to Willis Halaholo.

That sort of rugby is impossible to defend and tries like that, on such a big occasion, lift spirits to the point where Barrett's team-mates must have felt like anything could happen.

If they were unsure, they wouldn't have been after Barrett picked Sam Cane's intentions just before halftime and picked off the Chiefs captain's pass to scamper home.

Savea's biggest moment, or at least his most obvious, was when he picked from the base of a ruck, took off, dummied a kick before delivering a perfect one. In the blink of an eye, he took his team from their own line - where they had been for more than five minutes - to deep into the Chiefs' 22.

He also made two critical turnovers, a number of big tackles and other notable breaks.

While Savea and Barrett indulged in all sorts of ridiculously good work, the Chiefs couldn't get the same from their playmakers. They couldn't get the same flow or precision.

They didn't have the killer touch and it became painful watching the Chiefs have so much possession and territory and squander so much of it.

Their passes wouldn't stick. Their decisions weren't as good when they needed to be and Aaron Cruden, Damian McKenzie and James Lowe could not find the touch of genius required to break a Hurricanes defence that was excellent.

There was an edge of anxiety about some of their work near the Hurricanes' line. Where Barrett was lethal, the Chiefs were panicky and loose.

That was a surprise as the Chiefs have been the masters of expansive and creative attacking rugby all year. They are all about continuity and the offload - they stretch teams one way then the other and then blast through them with their ability to pop the ball out of contact.

But they couldn't get that side of their game right. They didn't have the composure or patience to finish what they started and, in the end, just didn't have the same x-factor as the Hurricanes.

- NZ Herald

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