The title was on the line! While the Hurricanes still needed to pick up max points and along with the Blues, sweat on the result of the second match to go their way to keep the season alive. But first the Hurricanes needed to do their part of the task against the Chiefs to keep themselves in the race. Then the one everything was hanging on, the Crusaders hosting the Highlanders with the title potentially to be decided.
HURRICANES 31 vs 18 CHIEFS
The Chiefs season came to an end tonight on the road in the capital against the Hurricanes, who are looking to keep their extremely slim hopes of a title alive needing the bonus points win. There was a late change for the home side, with Vince Aso replacing Ngani Laumape at inside center.
It only took a couple of minutes to see our first opportunity of points from the tee to the Chiefs. Damien McKenzie having a crack from forty five meters back, but struck the crossbar to let the Hurricanes off early.
It didnt take the Hurricanes long when they did get some ball in hand, finding plenty of advancing space on the edges, Once inside the twenty two, it only took a couple of charges to bash over and it was the impressive Peter Umaga-Jensen who bashed through the one on one tackle to put the first points on the board.
Its a cracking game, full of attacking intent at a very high pace with very few stoppages. Most of the play is under advantage as both sides were spilling the ball pushing the tempo even higher. The Chiefs did jump onto the scoreboard through the boot of McKenzie shortly after the midway point of the half.
Sam Cane took what initially looked like another massive injury after being decked trying to tackle Jordie Barrett after taking down a high ball. Thankfully for Cane, after some time with the medics, was able to walk himself off the field. Another sad end for Sam Canes Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
As soon as the Chiefs got on the board, the Hurricanes snapped back with another try. From the set piece scrum, they launched wide to the left edge. Umaga-Jensen again getting on the outside shoulder of the defence and putting Wes Goosen away down the sidelines. Goosen draws the fullback McKenzie in and offloads right on the edge of the chalk back to Umaga-Jensen who has two in the night already. The ball falls from the tee as Barrett was coming in for the conversion, he snaps a drop kick from the sideline which just slides to the left. He cant do too much wrong….
Kobus van Wyk has a little bit of fun trying to throw Brad Weber as far as he can like some dirty laundry, unfortunately for him, the referee found it illegal and sent him to the bin for ten minutes…..
That was about the last of the fun for the first half, as the two sides head for a breather with the scoreline at 12-3 to the Hurricanes.
With the player advantage, the Chiefs fight back into the game with their first try of the match. Carefully drawing defenders in through the backline to leave that overlap on the outside for Sean Wainui to sneak over in the corner and bring the Chiefs back in the game, just two points behind.
The Hurricanes took over for the next ten minutes, grabbing two quick tries that seemed like it would shut the door on the Chiefs season. Firstly it was Dane Coles who went over in the left corner in typical Coles fashion. Just using his outside runner as a decoy and using his pace to get on the outside and power the carry him over.
It was a flurry of points of McKenzie tried to break the domination of the Hurricanes by putting over a penalty, but it had very little effect.
Then as quickly as they got back to half way, the Hurricanes were back at it again. This time it was a horrid defensive setup by the Chiefs that was read superbly by Jackson Garden-Bachop, who chips the ball across the field to a wide open Korbus Van Wyk who had time to sign some autographs before the defence arrived and still dot down in the corner and push the lead out to 24-13.
A good run of penalties for the Chiefs gets them in another good position to strike. They look to the forwards to drive it from the lineout and after a couple of attempts, manage to smash over through Mitch Karpik, with Brad Slater close behind. It tightens up again, 24-18, Chiefs just six behind.
Its a see-sawing second half in this one, but its the Hurricanes who just keep hitting back in response to every Chiefs attack. Jamie Booth had a massive impact off the bench, adding his usual spark into the backline. He combined with his fellow substitute Billy Proctor to grab what ended up being the final blow to the Chiefs. Booth had made a number of half breaks since coming on the field and added the offload to finish the job for the Canes.
It was a game the Hurricanes lead from start to finish and seemed to have an answer for everything the Chiefs threw at them. They had a real number of standouts in this match but to be fair and just nail down a couple, Peter Umaga-Jensen in the backs again was outstanding and those back three have been superb since Jordie Barretts return. Scott Scrafton has been the sort of players Hurricanes sides have often lacked, he was strong again in the pack along with Du’Plessis Kirifi who just gets better and better.
Well, a winless season for the Chiefs, its difficult to be positive for the team. They don’t back down to throwing it all out there but just lack that ability to find the victory. The biggest problem is the lack of form for the key players like Damien McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown. Samisoni Taukei’aho has been wayward this season but was a solid performer for the Chiefs. Youngsters like Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Ollie Norris look good at this level and give some bright lights for the Chiefs, but all in all, results are the final say and they were far from the side of the Chiefs this season.
CRUSADERS 32 vs HIGHLANDERS 22
This was the game everyone was waiting for this weekend. Was going to depend massively if they Highlanders could turn up to the the party and last the full eighty minutes against the machine that is the Crusaders.
It all started with off with a massive roar for the visitors, blasting over the ball in the ruck for an early turnover. Aaron Smith was always going to be a massive key for the Highlanders and his two touches after the turnover were key. First short side to Josh McKay and then picking a perfect line to find the charging Shannon Frizell to smash over the line with just two minutes on the clock.
It took a bit of time to the Crusaders to get themselves into the game after the early Highlanders domination from the whistle, but they did find their rhythm. Fast recycled ball and numbers on the short side, the Crusaders just need one little spark and they create some of the greatest tries in the competition. Sevu Reece burns down the sideline and with all the support in the world they draw the cover defenders and find the open Richie Mo’unga to score. The Crusaders have woken.
This match was being played at a rocket tempo with the most ridiculous style of play but the Highlanders were here to compete and committed to taking any points on offer as Josh Ioane took the first penalty attempt at goal to nudge the Highlanders in front.
Hold on to your hats folks! This one was hot! Jona Nareki had been caught out defensively a couple of times but this time his turning in worked in their favour. Sam Whitelock’s little tap on pass was intercepted by Nareki who put on the burners and created a footrace with Sevu Reece as the two Fijians went racing to the corner but Nareki had just enough to get it down in the corner and Highlanders cashed in again. Ioane nailed the sideline conversion, tapping the left hand upright on its way past for a 17-7 lead.
The Highlanders forced some respect from the Crusaders, taking shots at the posts from penalties instead of looking for the five and Mo’unga doesn’t miss many, grabbing two late shots at goal to bring the Crusaders within four at the half time break. A cracking forty minutes and surprisingly a Highlanders lead!
Five minutes in to the second half, it looked like the Crusaders were about to score another scorching try from inside their own half but take a look at this highlight if you get the chance. Bryn Hall looked in for all money from about twenty out but do not deny the reactions of Josh McKay who produced the try saver of the decade! Coming from nowhere to tackle Hall from behind and slap the ball out of his grasp for a knock on and a denied try! Unbelievable!
The Highlanders are making a match of this one to the joy of the Hurricanes and the Blues! Playing a determined, stubborn and structure gameplan that’s actually coming off so far. Josh Ioane has been making many little breaks through the Crusaders defence and get the front foot ball for the Highlanders who get just five out from the line. Some quick ball again and Michael Collins crashes through Will Jordan and Sevu Reece to dot down again for the visitors who extend the lead to nine points.
The clock ticked over the hour mark and we all know what that means for the Crusaders, its go time. Within a couple of minutes and some poor Highlanders decision making, the Crusaders had some good attacking ball. Mo’unga swept aside the defence and created a numbers game for the Crusaders who are extremely good at taking advantage of these situations. Through the hands, Jack Goodhue, Will Jordan and for the finish George Bridge.
Its just ridiculous, this Crusaders side. Right off the kickoff, the offload of the decade from Luke Romano to Mo’unga who shows that rapid acceleration and the numbers take their toll again. It’s Will Jordan and George Bridge once more and the combination turns this game on its head. Crusaders now lead by three.
Things go from bad to worse for the Highlanders, as in the buildup to that try, Sio Tomkinson flattened Oli Jager off the ball and was sent to the bin for ten minutes. Bad positioning from Tomkinson and was never in the right place to avoid the hit and the place of the hit made it much much worse.
The Highlanders have matched the level again following the slow down from the Jager injury but with the game winding down into the final few minutes, the final nail was struck. A number of penalties inside the Highlanders half has the Crusaders right on attack. Of course with the yellow card man still missing in midfield, the Crusaders strike right in that spot. Braydon Ennor finding all the space to mark his return with what will turn out to be the match winner.
The Highlanders toil at the Crusaders for the last few minutes but cannot find their way back into the game and the professional Crusaders just do whats required to get the job done and crown themselves Super Rugby Aotearoa champions with a week still to play. The dream of the season decider at Eden Park, just wasn’t to be….
Both sides had a stack of players who performed fantastically! I’ll keep it short and sweet for this or I will name the whole teams! For the Crusaders Richie Mounga was an absolute standout again! Hes had a spectacular season and has become a real leader of how this team operates. Codie Taylor was near unstoppable at times as well. He carried well and picked his offloading decision very well.
Its a similar story for the Highlanders, Josh Ioane had a fantastic game for the Highlanders. Really is stepping up with his creation and running game and works well with Mitch Hunt. If anything, the Highlanders decision making at times let them down, poor exits with little chips and those risky 50/50 plays that often dont pay off when you play a side like the Crusaders. In the pack, in this game and the whole season, its hard to go past Ash Dixon. A real leader in all areas on this team and considering how little the Highlanders used the maul, he will still the most prominent forward in the pack. Shannon Frizell was also a standout, this has been his best season for years.
Great game all around, a real spectacle to watch.
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