Chiefs ground out tired Hurricanes
The Chiefs have returned to the top of the Investec Super Rugby table with a resounding 34-22 win over the Hurricanes in an entertaining encounter at Waikato Stadium on Friday.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, were solid if not spectacular as they returned to their efficient best up front. With a tonne of quality ball, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and first-five Aaron Cruden did their best to find space with stabbing kicks behind the defensive line.
It proved successful as tries to Matt Vant Leven and Bundee Aki came from kick-based plays, though the first of the two was from a re-start rather than a set play.
Their fourth try was just as impressive as the intimidating forward pack stamped their mark on a weary Hurricanes outfit, prop Ben Tameifuna the tryscorer to secure a bonus point.
Julian Savea staked a claim for a wing spot in the All Blacks' Investec Rugby Championship with a superb display on the left wing for the visitors. Dangerous as ever, the No.11 broke through tackles and provided his side with the spark it desperately needed on attack.
Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett, too, was handy on attack, with his scything run providing the platform en route to scoring the try. As well as the five-pointer, Barrett had a conversion and a penalty to his name, while Cruden kicked four conversions and two penalties.
The win elevates the Chiefs back to the top of the competition on 61 points, two points clear of the Brumbies with a game in hand. For the Hurricanes, the loss has ended any hope of making the playoffs in 2013.
The Hurricanes were dealt an early injury blow, with hooker Dane Coles ruled out of the match with a reoccurring calf strain. The All Blacks hooker's absence saw Ash Dixon promoted in his place while John Schwalger was elevated to the bench.
The opening quarter was dominated by the hosts' desire to retain territorial advantage. Kicking for the corner became the norm for the likes of Aaron Cruden and Robbie Robinson as they looked for weaknesses in the Hurricanes' armoury.
The Hurricanes responded clinically in the opening minutes, though their foray into Chiefs territory was significantly against the run of play.
Perenara, who went down in pain after what appeared to be a serious injury, scored a crucial try after Jeremy Thrush was inches short.
It was the opening signs that the Hurricanes were beginning to click on attack. Their defence, however, remained stagnant.
Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma's uncontested take from the restart paved the way for Vant Leven to score straight back and re-take the lead to the frustration of Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.
Aki's try extended the lead to 10 points as a desperate Hurricanes outfit were left wondering how to counter the Chiefs' charge.
Barrett's run and ensuing try gave the visitors hope at 17-15, and they received another ounce of luck when Cruden couldn't convert a relatively simple penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Their inability to kick on from their fortune ultimately told as the Chiefs landed a heavy blow heading into the final quarter of the match.
After scoring a penalty goal, Kerr-Barlow spotted an opening close to the Hurricanes line and darted over to score the side's third try and extend the hosts' lead to 12 points.
The Hurricanes were tired on defence and it showed as Tameifuna secured the side's fourth try of the evening before a late consolation try to Alapati Leiua gave the visitors a bittersweet moment of celebration.
Chiefs 34 (Matt Vant Leven, Bundee Aki, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Ben Tameifuna tries; Aaron Cruden 4 con, 2 pen) Hurricanes 22 (TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ben Tameifuna tries; Barrett 2 con, pen) HT: 17-15