A team would always leave Sky Stadium on Saturday night with their heads down, their season being in terrible shape.
Either way, that team was the Hurricanes, as the Damian McKenzie-inspired Chiefs returned home for a 35-29 win in Wellington to break a horrific 11-game losing streak.
Yes, the Chiefs won and celebrated like a final. And the Hurricanes are 0-3 in 2021, having led 26-7 with 23 minutes left.
Their visitors racked up three tries and 21 points in nine minutes to strike the front, before a monster penalty of 50m and more from Jordie Barrett brought the Hurricanes back six minutes to go.
No.8 Luke Jacobson scored the winner after sustained pressure forward, diving to break the hearts of the Hurricanes in their special Mana Moana night celebrating their Maori and Pasifika influence.
Jacobson sealed it with a big turnover as the Canes desperately tried to retaliate. No.8 with McKenzie, running back Brad Weber and second five-eighth Quinn Tupaea were among the Chiefs’ best in a heated and desperate display.
Hurricanes, meanwhile, were broken. Captain Ardie Savea was on his heels, the new skipper now having to rally his men who kind of let slip a winning lead and a dominant position on the back of a double from Salesi Rayasi. And they face a trip to Dunedin for the Highlanders in just six days.
The Chiefs came to town with an unwelcome record: 12 straight losses to beat the 11 Highlanders of 2012-13.
It had been a year and two weeks since their last victory. Remember? A 51-14 walk in the park against the Waratahs in Wollongong on March 6, 2020. A week later, the Hurricanes nipped a 27-24 victory in Hamilton and it was curtains.
For a game between two teams without a win, there was no holding back, as the Hurricanes took the lead early and led 26-7 after an exuberant first half. They were confident and their great players stepped up.
With Orbyn Leger making his first start in the first five, but having minimal impact, Barrett lightened some of the load and was again a big presence, both in attack and defense.
Barrett set off the first down at 60m, a run that saw him wander through space and tuck half-back Luke Campbell next to the posts on his first start.
Barrett is tall, don’t argue
The Chiefs retaliated almost immediately, with prostitute Samisoni Taukei’aho going wild during a tackle attempt from Ardie Savea and feeding Kaleb Trask, another new man at No.10 for 2021.
Hurricane hooker Ricky Riccitelli, in the absence of injured duo Asafo Aumua and Dane Coles, took on their roles and took charge. He fought back for the Canes, wandering widely and slipping from a pass from Ngani Laumape after another bypass deceived the Chiefs’ defense.
Visitors just couldn’t take a turn, even though their hosts freaked out on occasion. Passes were knocked back and referee Ben O’Keeffe penalized them 6-2 in the first half. Then there were more mistakes; McKenzie goes full blast and Trask drops a cold bombshell.
This brought left winger Rayasi into the game on his first start for 2021. Laumape, in a great piece of play, hit Rayasi with a cross kick in the left corner and the wing reached out for to mark.
Then, three minutes before the break, Rayasi popped into the line and went through a non-existent defense to give the Hurricanes a decent halftime buffer.
Weber was held over the line, then early in the second half McKenzie crossed but was penalized for a double move following the intervention of the match official on TV.
It seemed like this would never happen for them, then suddenly a switch was flipped and McKenzie started to impose his presence.
Chase Tiatia, in Trask’s place, rushed in after sustained pressure in the 57th minute and eventually there were smiles on the Chiefs’ faces.
They went bang-bang, and suddenly it was the game, when McKenzie did his thing and returned a Light bomb with gusto, rummaging and feeding Tiatia that sidelined Weber for the match test.
In the blink of an eye, the Canes’ lead was reduced to five at the start of the last quarter. Then when lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi in his hometown scored from a rolling maul, there were 21 unanswered points in nine minutes and those winless Chiefs were ultimately in the lead with 10 to go.
IN ONE LOOK
Chefs 35 (Caleb Trask, Chase Tiatia, Brad Weber, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Luke Jacobson tries; Damian McKenzie 5 con) Hurricanes 29 (Salesi Rayasi 2, Luke Campbell, Ricky Riccitelli tries; Jordie Barrett 3 with, pen). HT: 7-26
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