Chiefs grind out win in Wellington
The Chiefs will remain at the top of the New Zealand conference for another week after a dogged 17-12 Investec Super Rugby win over the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Hurricanes' play-off hopes are not quite dead and buried yet, but they are hanging by a thread with matches against the Brumbies, Chiefs, Highlanders and Crusaders to come after next week's bye.
The Chiefs scored the game's only try when Tanerau Latimer dived over in the 54th minute. Up until then it had been a kicking duel between the team's respective first five-eighths Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, which Cruden shaded.
And after that five-pointer scoring chances remained rare in the stop-start encounter where even the sin-binning of replacement prop Ben Tameifuna with 10 minutes to go did not provide the opening the Hurricanes craved.
In a scrappy opening 40 minutes all the points came from the boots Barrett and Cruden.
It wasn't a surprise given the wet and greasy conditions that running rugby was at a premium. But even when half-chances arose the Hurricanes persisted in playing the territory game with Barrett and TJ Perenara more often than not putting boot to ball and Julian Savea was barely sighted.
It was left to Barrett and Cruden to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the Chiefs first-five kicked four penalties to Barrett's three as the visitors took a 12-9 half-time lead.
The Chiefs came the closest to crossing the whitewash in the first half.
With just eight minutes gone and after several aimless kicks from both sides, fullback Robbie Robinson finally decided to chance his arm with ball in hand and raced 30 metres up field before finally being hauled down. Barrett then chased hard to ground the ball in his own in-goal area.
Barrett then almost cost his side dearly in the 27th minute when his clearance kick was charged down by Chiefs No.8 Matt Vant Leven. It was only Jason Eaton's last-ditch tackle that spared his first five-eighths blushes.
Just before half-time Chiefs second-five Charlie Ngatai burst through the Hurricanes' defensive line and offloaded nicely to Tawera Kerr-Barlow. Hurricanes openside Jack Lam clung desperately to the No.9's jersey to halt his run and in the end the Chiefs had to settle for another three points which restored their lead.
The Hurricanes spent much of the start of the second half in Chiefs territory but failed to turn that advantage into points - and they were made to pay when Latimer got the game's opening try.
After winning every one of their line-outs to that point, the Hurricanes botched one in the Chiefs 22 and the loose ball was hacked clear.
The end result was another line-out just metres from their own line. Brodie Retallick got a hand to Perenara's box kick, the ball was gathered by Kerr-Barlow and Latimer was the man in support to score.
Mark Hammett turned to his bench as the return trip from South Africa started to take its toll.
But prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen lasted only 10 minutes before he came off injured which could jeopardise his attendance at the upcoming All Blacks training camp.
With 15 minutes to go the Hurricanes realised they needed to keep ball in hand if they were going to haul in the Chiefs.
The ploy almost worked as they got the ball over the line 10 minutes from the end. But they couldn't ground it because of cynical play by Tameifuna who was sin-binned for his efforts.
The Hurricanes opted to take the kick at goal instead of going for a five metre scrum and although they got the three points, they didn't get another scoring chance and the Chiefs hung on.
Hurricanes 12 (Beauden Barrett 4 pen) Chiefs 17 (Tanerau Latimer try; Aaron Cruden 4 pen). HT: 9-12