July 13, 2018

Gallagher Chiefs defeat Hurricanes in thriller

The Gallagher Chiefs have warmed up for the Investec Super Rugby playoffs with a well-deserved 28-24 win over the Hurricanes at FMG Stadium Waikato.

Needing to win by a margin of 23 points or more to leapfrog the Hurricanes on the points table, the Gallagher Chiefs jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and hung on for the win, but three second half tries to the Hurricanes was enough to ensure they will host next weekend's playoff match between the two sides.

Despite missing their in-form playmaker Damian McKenzie, who sat out the match as part of his enforced All Blacks rest, the Gallagher Chiefs looked the stronger of the two sides early on, and their positive start was rewarded with the first points of the evening - lock Brodie Retallick marking his return to the side in style, forcing his way over to score from a ruck close to the line.

First five Marty McKenzie, playing in place of his brother Damian, added the conversion for an early 7-0 lead.

Following the Retallick try, the visitors slowly worked their way into the game and were beginning to look dangerous. But then out of nowhere Gallagher Chiefs halfback Brad Weber intercepted a Beauden Barrett pass and scampered away to score from 60 metres out.

McKenzie was again on target off the tee to make it 14-0 after 18 minutes.

The Hurricanes again responded well to conceding points but once again it was the Chiefs who pounced against the run of play. Second five Johnny Fa'auli placed a kicked behind the defensive line which was toed ahead by wing Shaun Stevenson who regathered and then produced a perfect chest pass inside for fullback Solomon Alaimalo to race clear and score a superb try.

As the match approached the half hour mark, McKenzie kicked his third conversion to open up a comfortable 21-0 lead, cutting the Hurricanes' all important points differential to just two.

For the remainder of the first half it was the Hurricanes who held onto possession but the Chiefs were able to keep them pinned inside their own half, with no further score added as the teams went into the break.

Jordie Barrett had a chance to get the Hurricanes on the board early in the second half but he pushed his long-range penalty attempt wide.

They didn't have to wait too much longer for their first points though as a kick return from halfway, led by wing Ben Lam, ended in a try to centre Wes Goosen. Jordie Barrett's conversion narrowed the gap to 14 and stretched the points differential back out to nine.

A scything run from centre Anton Lienert-Brown then thrust the Chiefs straight back onto attack, but some clutch goal line defence from the visitors denied the Chiefs forwards from getting across the line.

With just over 20 minutes remaining, the Hurricanes struck a crucial blow with lock Blade Thomson crossing for their second try which gave his side further breathing space and brought them right back into the match.

To make matters worse for the Chiefs they were then reduced to 14 men for the remainder of the match with second five Johnny Fa'auli shown a red card for a high no arms tackle in the 63rd minute.

This was followed just minutes later by a try to Hurricanes prop Ben May who burrowed over in a pile of bodies, narrowing the Chiefs' lead to just two points.

Shortly after the restart, Brad Weber made a great snipe down the left-hand sideline, coming up just metres short of the line, with loose forward Mitch Karpik on hand to force his way over for the try.

McKenzie nailed the conversion from out wide, leaving the Chiefs with 14 points to score in the final nine minutes to reel in the Hurricanes' points differential.

The Chiefs continued to throw caution to the wind in search of those points, which ended in the Hurricanes having the final say as replacement Julian Savea scooped up a loose pass to score right on fulltime.

Despite the late try, the Chiefs were still able to leave their home fans satisfied with a hard-fought four point victory in their final match of the season at FMG Stadium Waikato.

Gallagher Chiefs 28 (Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber, Solomon Alaimalo, Mitch Karpik tries; Marty McKenzie 4 cons)
Hurricanes 24 (Wes Goosen, Blade Thomson, Ben May, Julian Savea tries; Jordie Barrett 2 cons) HT: 21-0.

The Gallagher Chiefs will now head to Wellington next weekend for their playoff match against the Hurricanes.

Gallagher Chiefs defeat Hurricanes in thriller