JON CARDINELLI reports that a thrilling 28-25 victory for the Hurricanes in Wellington has left the door open for the Stormers to top the Super Rugby league.
A controversial try awarded four minutes into injury time allowed the Hurricanes to snatch a late win and keep their own play-off prospects alive in the process. This result is a bad one for the Bulls, Sharks and Reds, who are all chasing a qualifying spot, but it is a very favourable one for the Stormers.
The Cape side simply need to beat the Rebels in Cape Town on Saturday to win the league and secure a home semi-final. This would result in the Stormers’ first ever top-of-the-table finish, and put them into a position to play a possible final at Newlands.
The Chiefs certainly blew an opportunity in Friday’s encounter at the Cake Tin. It was clear that a bonus-point win was what they were after, as five log points would have secured top spot.
A simple win would also have given them a chance to finish in pole position. The Stormers haven’t scored a bonus-point win this season, but if the Chiefs had won narrowly in Wellington, the Cape side would need to win big in their own final league match. Perhaps the Chiefs should have secured the win before being so ambitious.
But special mention must go to the Hurricanes for their role in a result that has turned the tournament on its head. They were once again inconsistent in this crunch match, and flyhalf Beauden Barrett missed four kicks at goal. To be fair, they were the better side on the day, and as the final call indicated, the 50/50 calls also went their way.
There was minimal kicking in this contest as both teams went in search of a bonus-point win. The Chiefs started well, but then battled to live with Hurricanes at the breakdown. Indeed they were fortunate to be ahead in the final minutes, and if they had won they would have pointed to a crucial score right before half-time as well as Aaron Cruden’s intercept try in the 58th minute as game-winning plays.
But in defeat, it can be said that the eight points the Chiefs banked right before half-time were scored when Hurricanes prop Ben May was off the park. The tighthead was sin-binned for a reckless tackle on Sonny Bill Williams, and the Chiefs made the Hurricanes pay to the tune of eight points.
The intercept try allowed the Chiefs to take the lead at a crucial stage of the game, and credit must go to Cruden for reading the play and latching on to the pass by Barrett. It was a seven-pointer against the run of play, but it highlighted the Chiefs’ threat from the turnover.
Aside from his goal-kicking and that unfortunate pass, Barrett had an absolute blinder at flyhalf. His decision making was excellent and the Chiefs’ defence was guilty of giving him too much room to run and create opportunities for team-mates running a supporting line.
For the Chiefs, Williams was superb, breaking tackles and delivering some inspired offloads. But unfortunately for the visitors, Williams failed to link up with his team-mates after making many a break, and as a result the Chiefs failed to finish some great attacking surges.
The Hurricanes are a young side, but they showed terrific character as the clock wound down. The Chiefs should have put them away during this period, but poor ball security at the breakdown and some woeful tactical kicking allowed the hosts to take control.
It was all the Chiefs could do to hang on, conceding penalty after penalty at the breakdown. The Hurricanes eventually got over the line with the clock on 84 minutes, Dane Coles showing some incredible strength to finish.
Referee Jonathan Kaplan referred the decision to the TMO as the 25 000 screaming fans anticipated a fairytale finish for their Hurricanes team. Tawera-Kerr Barlow looked to have pulled off a heroic tackle on Coles, although it seemed inconclusive whether Kerr-Barlow had got his arm under the ball or if Coles had indeed got the ball down on to the tryline.
The TMO decided it was the latter, and that decision has had some far reaching ramifications. It’s now likely that the Stormers will beat the Rebels on Saturday and top the league, but the Sharks and Bulls will need to win big in their respective clashes to guarantee a spot in the play-offs.
For the Hurricanes, they have kept their hopes alive with an outstanding win over the Chiefs, and no doubt they will be cheering the Sharks and Bulls’ opponents on Saturday.