Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs shock tabletopping Hurricanes to book final against Blues

The Chiefs have tipped the Super Rugby Pacific order on its head, shocking the tabletopping Hurricanes 30-19 at Wellington to book a final showdown against the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park next week.

After a regular season that saw them lose twice to their rivals from the capital, en route to a fourth-place finish, the Hamiltonians continued their dominant playoff form against Queensland Reds, jumping out to an early 17-0 lead that was never seriously threatened.

The home side closed within six points midway through the second half, but the Chiefs immediately snatched back the initiative, when No.8 Wallace Sititi held an intercept in his own territory and burst upfield, providing the momentum for winger Daniel Rona to score a matchwinning try. 

Wallace Sititi in action for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Wallace Sititi in action for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport

The visitors struck first, when winger Emoni Narawa evaded four defenders to enter the 22, before backhanding an offload to flanker Samipeni Finau to score in the corner, with first-five Damian McKenzie converting from the sideline.

Moments later, Sititi found himself onside from a charged-down clearance kick and rumbled upfield, before captain Luke Jacobson put halfback Cortez Ratima in beside the posts.

The home side seemed shellshocked and fell further behind to a McKenzie penalty, but finally responded, when hooker Asafo Aumua ran down the sideline and sent No.8 Brayden Iose across in the corner. The try was rubbed out for two forward passes in the build-up.

From the penalty advantage and lineout, the Hurricanes attacked the tryline and flanker Peter Lakai stretched out in a tackle to score. Adding injury to insult, All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho hobbled to the Chiefs bench. 

Ratima seemed to have his second, when Sititi broke a tackle, and lobbed a pass for his halfback to juggle and score. Replays showed Finau made head contact with halfback TJ Perenara in the build-up, the try was disallowed, Finau was yellow-carded and Perenara left for a head check.

The Chiefs survived the 10 minutes without Finau and seemed to manufacture a try from nothing, when McKenzie kicked into the 22, the bounce eluded counterpart Brett Cameron and Finau flicked the ball back into play for Rona to score.

Replays showed Finau did not release the ball before landing in touch, so again, no try.

Ahead 17-7 at the break, the visitors padded their margin with another McKenzie penalty after the restart. 

Hurricanes lock Justin Sangster put a scare into the Chiefs, when he charged down a clearing kick, but the ball bobbled away from him in the in-goal area.

Jacobson copped a soft yellow card for a marginally late tackle, but Perenara avoided a similar fate, despite making head contact with Sititi in a tackle.

When Iose somehow kept a wickedly bouncing pass inbounds, the Hurricanes closed within a converted try, with Cameron scoring wide on the other side of the field and adding extra points from touch.

Cortez Ratima in action for the Chiefs.
Cortez Ratima in action for the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

From a lineout inside the 22, they were almost in again at the same corner, but winger Josh Moorby spilt the ball, as he dived inside the flag. 

Sititi broke the game wide open, when he plucked Cameron's pass inside his own 22 and trundled the length of the field, pulled down just short by flanker Devan Flanders retreating quickly. From the ruck, quick hands put Rona across for a backbreaking try.

McKenzie converted, then added a long-range penalty to stretch the lead again, but Hurricanes centre Billy Proctor scored in the corner to keep some hope alive inside the final minutes.

Scrums became 'Golden Oldies' contests, when Chiefs replacement hooker Bradley Slater finally succumbed to injuries that saw him struggle to keep up with play, but the home side ran out of time and ideas to mount another comeback.

"Really proud of the boys," reflected Jacobson. "We had a really good plan over the week and we trusted it.

"We were accurate - maybe not fully accurate at times, but we were able to make up for those.

"[Sititi] has been going pretty good since he came on and he took it another level. He's a special kid with a huge future."

The Chiefs lost 31-17 to the Blues in their regular-season finale, but seem to have found another gear at the right time of the season, after dominating last season, only to fall in the final against the Crusaders.

Chiefs 30 (Finau, Ratima, Rona tries; McKenzie 3 conversions & 3 penalties) Hurricanes 19 (Lakai, Cameron, Proctor tries; Cameron 2 conversions)

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