A last-minute try from hooker Dane Coles earned the Hurricanes a dramatic 28-25 victory over the Chiefs in a classic derby in Wellington on Friday.
The win keeps the Hurricanes hopes of qualifying for the play-offs alive, although they will have to rely on other results to go their way, whlst it also gives the Stormers the opportunity to clinch top spot in the standings with victory over the Rebels on Saturday.
An incredible end to an incredible match! 80 minutes were not enough to contain it all - the zest, enthusiasm and drama. The match was decided by a close decision for the TMO after the match had run for 84 magnificent minutes - and a hard TMO decision it was with remarkable consequences. When the TMO's decision was known, it was like a final in its watershed of emotions - dejection for the Chiefs and unbridled, jump-about, hugging glee for the Hurricanes.
Afterwards Conrad Smith, the Hurricanes captain, said: "We are rugby players. We just want to win games." It sounded so ordinary but there was nothing ordinary in the joy the Hurricanes felt or in the consequences their victory had for the competition.
It was a Wellington day. The wind blew, it rained during the match, Westpac Stadium had its biggest crowd, given as 23 500, and the home team won in this season of resurrection. They could even get into play-offs to make coach Mark Hammett's 40th birthday party complete.
It was a game played at impossible speed. In the frantic first half there were only 23 stoppages. In addition to that the ball came quickly from tackles. Smith said afterwards that by half-time both teams had run out of puff but still there were only 34 stoppages. 57 in the match. That's a rugby miracle of sorts.
A tricky wind made goalkicking difficult and the zestful defence made tries hard to come by, but they did - six in all, just not four for a side as each so ardently wanted.
The first came after three minutes. The Chiefs kicked out a penalty and then bashed till suddenly Tawera Kerr-Barlow, a scrumhalf at his best with the ball in his own hands, spurted through for a try. Aaron Cruden converted. 7-0.
After the Chiefs kicked out on the full and the Hurricanes had an attacking line-out Jack Lam dummied and was stopped on the goal-line by Lelia Masaga but a penalty for offside against Ben Tameifuna enabled Beauden Barrett to make it 7-3 after 6 minutes.
Andrew Horrell, playing fullback, broke to set the Chiefs on the attack but Reg Goodes won a turnover and the Hurricanes started running from 10 metres inside their own 22 on the left. They raced down on the right. First it was Barrett, then Conrad Smith who went on and deceptively on. Then they went wide left where Julian Savea bounced off Malaga's attempted tackle to score in the corner. The Hurricanes led 8-7 after 12 minutes.
The Chiefs attacked with Sonny Bill Williams and Kerr-Barlow making inroads but Brad Shields, on for injured Jack Lam, won a turnover. Barrett broke, Jane carried on and the Hurricanes were bashing for the line till Savea picked up the ball and plunged over for the try. Barrett converted. 15-7 after 24 minutes.
The Hurricanes were getting on top - winning turnovers and Andre Taylor on the break - but Ben May was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle of the tip kind on Sonny Bill Williams. In his absence the Chiefs scored eight points.
First Cruden kicked a penalty when Tim Bateman was offside and then they enjoyed the advantage of a missed kick. Cruden hit the upright and the ball bounced out at a shallow angle. The surprised Hurricanes managed just to push it into touch, conceding a five-metre line-out. The Chiefs' mauled and then bashed and Tameifuna scored a try. 15-15 after 38 minutes.
Brodie Retallick was penalised for not releasing when a 'tackler assist' and Barrett made the half-time score 18-15 to the home side.
It had been an all-action half.
Sonny Bill Williams got his best pass of the day to Cruden who chipped, gathered and passed inside but put a foot out doing so. Williams went strolling through a gap but had no support. A penalty to the Chiefs gave them a five-metre line-out. Then they had a five-metre scrum and Barrett just stopped Kane Thompson on the line, but Bateman won a turnover.
The Hurricanes had a scrum on their 10-metre line and went right. Barrett turned the ball inside towards Savea in a set move but Cruden grabbed the ball and ran an easy 40 metres for the try. 22-18 after 57 minutes. It seemed to be a turning point in the game's fortunes.
Barrett missed an easy penalty but then goaled one when Sam Cane was penalised. 22-21 with 19 minutes to play. Three minutes later Goodes was penalised at a scrum and Cruden goaled. 25-21 with 16 minutes to play.
The game had lost some of its energy but as the clock ran down it gathered it back as the Hurricanes especially kept on running. They were running and working their way downfield when the final siren sounded.
They carried on while the home crowd roared them on. They tapped two penalties and got closer and closer, till after 4 minutes of stoppage time the referee stopped play and asked the TMO 'Try, No Try." Not tell me why I cannot award a try, just try, no try. No try and the final whistle would go with the Chiefs victorious. But after long and careful deliberation and examination the verdict came: 'You may award the try.' Diligent hooker Dane Coles had scored. The Hurricanes had won.
Glee ruled the Hurricanes, despondency the Chiefs.
Man of the Match: Conrad Smith and Beauden Barrett had wonderful moments. Tawera Kerr-Barlow was always threatening and Liam Messam was all heart but our choice of Man of the Match is Dane Coles - not just for the try but for the 84 minutes of action and confident endeavour that he brought to the match.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Savea 2, Coles,
Cons: Barrett 2
Pens: Barrett 3
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Kerr-Barlow, Tameifuna, Cruden
Cons: Cruden 2
Pens: Cruden 2
Yellow card: Ben May (dangerous tackle, 27 mins)
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reg Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Robbie Robinson, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Keith Brown (New Zealand)
TMO: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)