Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Canes snatch last-gasp thriller

Hurricanes Julian Savea dots down in the corner to score one of his two tries against the Chiefs. Picture / SNPA
Hurricanes Julian Savea dots down in the corner to score one of his two tries against the Chiefs. Picture / SNPA

Hurricanes 28
Chiefs 25

What a game and what a shame the winner may miss out on the Super 15 finals.

Four minutes into injury time, Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles battered towards the Chiefs line and after a lengthy deliberation from the television match official Mike Fraser, he uttered the defining five words of the match.

"You may award the try," he told referee Jonathan Kaplan who asked for confirmation of that ruling before he signalled the touchdown.

The Chiefs seemed to have shown their character when they outdazzled the Hurricanes for much of last night and seemd to have one one hand on the Super 15 minor premiership.

However the Canes applied relentless pressure in the final few minutes to grind their way towards the line with the Chiefs conceding several penalties instead of a try. But that fatal touchdown came when Coles bashed around the side of the ruck and battered through Tawera Kerr-Barlow's tackle.

Now the Chiefs have to wait for the outcome of the Stormers match to discover whether they will qualify first in the Super 15 series.

Dave Rennie and his crew settled on a squad with a few gamble picks but awash with work ethic, a seam of rich backline talent plugged in behind a set of forwards who were drilled in the basics. That partnership has been a golden blend in a results chart which shows just four defeats, producing a clutch of new All Blacks and admiration for the style of the rest of the workaholic group.

Praise had to go to the Canes for their staunch combat and feverish attitude in a game which matched the excitement of the Chiefs stoush last week with the Crusaders. The Chiefs will get a week off, a semifinal and perhaps a final at Waikato Stadium in their quest for the first Super rugby title in the franchise history.

The SBW initials were the hot topic for the Chiefs early in the week but it was TKB who made the most initial impact as the match went through a frenetic opening spell.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow was dynamic, scoring the opening try when he was heped by referee Jonathan Kaplan shielding a defender.

Minutes later the nuggety halfback was saving a try down the other end of the Cake Tin after a sizzling break from Jack Lam. The Canes flanker was in rip-snorting form against many of his provincial mates before he damaged his right shoulder and had to leave the field after just 16 minutes.

Either side of that sad exit, Julian Savea crackled into action for the Canes. His first was an epic as he completed a breakout in which Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith were key figures, hauling the Canes from their own 22 down to the other end of the field for Savea to smash in at the cormer with the Chiefs defensive line in disarray. Then from another turnover and Canes' counter, Savea beat several defenders as he launched round the side of a ruck to graze the line.

The Chiefs from an opening advantage were quickly staring at a 15-7 deficit as the Canes found their mojo after a stuttering start. But then Kaplan upset that rhythm after advice from touchjudge Garratt Williamson who felt Ben May had tipped up Sonny Bill Williams in a dangerous tackle. Replays showed the ruling was flawed, however May was sinbinned and in his 10 minutes absence, the Chiefs drew level.

An Aaron Cruden penalty and try to Ben Tameifuna from a lineout drive squared the ledger until Barrett kicked a fine 40m penalty to send his side to the sheds with a slender lead.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said the strategy was not about all-out attack although the game had panned out that way. Both sides delivered composed lineouts in the first half but after the break the Hurricanes faltered in that area. They lost a few and a record home crowd of about 25,000 began to have doubts too.

The Canes were under serious heat at several scrums and lineouts on their line but they escaped each inquisition. Sonny Bill Williams was also ramping up the heat in midfield and while he made numerous busts, none drew any further reward. Not until the 57th minute anyway.

As the Canes worked a move from their scrum, Cruden was marooned in defence but guessed Barrett would in pass to a trailing Savea. His instincts were correct, his judgement spot on and from the intercept, Cruden cantered 40m for his own converted try.

Barrett then shanked a 20m penalty shot before knocking one over from double the distance to keep his side just a point adrift.

- NZ Herald

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