JON CARDINELLI reports on the 18-18 draw between the Chiefs and the Hurricanes on Friday.
Neither team was in play-off contention heading into this fixture, but there was still plenty of pride at stake. While they would have preferred the win, a draw was still good enough to ensure the Hurricanes stayed marginally ahead of the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference. Both teams are looking to avoid the division’s wooden spoon, and so the Hurricanes have helped their cause by collecting two log points.
The Chiefs fed off some early Hurricanes errors, and shot to a 10-0 lead. They were the more competitive side during this initial period, especially at the breakdown, and it appeared as if the Hurricanes’ off-field issues were being reflected by a lack of intensity and desire on the pitch.
But the visitors showed some mettle to fight back, and ironically it was the two players that coach Mark Hammett had labelled surplus to the Hurricanes’ requirements ahead of the 2012 season that had the greatest impact.
Captain Andrew Hore muscled over from close range in a rare display of control by the Hurricanes’ forwards, while centre Ma’a Nonu troubled the Chiefs’ midfield defence with some scything and determined runs.
The Chiefs managed to strike before half-time through Isaac Ross, but their 10-point lead was cancelled just six minutes into the second stanza. Nonu sparked a try with a midfield break, and some slick handling in spite of atrocious conditions eventually saw the ball reaching Hosea Gear for the finish. Aaron Cruden kicked a difficult conversion as well as a further penalty to level the scores with 34 minutes to play.
The weather worsened at this point, and both teams battled to control possession. The Hurricanes dropped the ball in promising positions, Julian Savea guilty of losing possession over the tryline and Nonu failing to collect a difficult pass when he had the goal-posts in sight.
Cruden and Donald exchanged penalties to set up a dramatic finish, and both teams strove for territorial dominance as the final whistle approached. The tactics at this stage were geared towards hoping for an opposition error or infringement.
The Chiefs did well to pin the Hurricanes in their own half during this period, but after taking the ball through 20 phases, Donald’s drop-goal attempt was charged down and the Hurricanes decided to put the ball into touch instead of keeping it alive and trying to win the game.