The Wellington Hurricanes outmuscled the Western Force 21-10 yesterday to take another big step toward a Super 14 semi-final spot with just one round remaining.
The win elevated the Hurricanes into second place in the table, although that could change over a weekend in which seven teams still have a realistic chance of a play-offs place.
But for the ninth-placed Force, defeat ended any wafer-thin chance they had of progressing to the semi-finals.
The home team enjoyed a huge 82 percent advantage in territory but heavy rain, swirling wind and ferocious defense by the Force restricted them to a two try to one victory.
A bonus point for scoring at least four tries could have made a huge difference in the Hurricanes’ bid for a home semi-final, but grim defense and atrocious conditions were against them.
“We were trying to get the bonus point there and obviously the Force defended quite well and it made it very hard for us to come away with the win,” Hurricanes captain Rodney So’oialo said afterwards.
His team dominated with a more conservative style of play than usual in the poor conditions and their pack, led by hooker Andrew Hore and prop Neemia Tialata, ensured they spent most of the time in the opposition half.
Hore scored the opening try — his fifth of the season — in the 11th minute, no doubt pleasing his parents who reportedly regularly take a bet on their son getting on the scoreboard.
The hooker was characteristically on hand to go over from a ruck camped on the Force tryline.
The Force relied mostly on long kicks from fly-half Matt Giteau for their few forays into Hurricanes territory, but it was their desperate defense which prevented the score blowing out.
They repeatedly repelled the Hurricanes on their tryline in the final 10 minutes of the opening spell and went into the break just 10-3 down.
Despite maintaining their massive territorial advantage in the second half, the Hurricanes could not break through for their second try until the 62nd minute.
In a rare sweeping movement through the backline, they got the overlap on the right wing to hand Hosea Gear an easy, uncontested try.
Against the run of play, the Force hit back with a consolation try with four minutes left. Fullback Cameron Shepherd took the ball inside his own half, chipped and fly-kicked the ball into the Hurricanes in-goal area where he stretched out to beat the defense and touch down.
Half-back Piri Weepu, whose form is returning to a level that would interest the All Black selectors, added a conversion and three penalties for the Hurricanes, while Giteau kicked a conversion and penalty.