Defending champions the Waikato Chiefs moved back into top spot on the Super 15 ladder yesterday after holding on to beat the Wellington Hurricanes 17-12.
The Chiefs scored the only try and produced a mighty defensive effort to smother a Hurricanes fightback.
The Chiefs first win in Wellington since 2001 puts them three points clear of the ACT Brumbies, who can overtake them again with a victory in their match against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney today.
It also extends their lead in the New Zealand conference, putting pressure on the Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders, who face off in Christchurch today.
The Hurricanes will now face an uphill struggle to make the play-off after posting six wins and six losses for the season.
Defense dominated a tight first half, with both sides opting to kick rather than run the ball. The Chiefs went into the break 12-9 up after Aaron Cruden booted four penalties to Beauden Barrett’s three.
The Chiefs’ Matt Vant Leven came closest to a try in the 26th minute when he charged down a kick and took off for the tryline, only for Jason Eaton to drag him into touch with a desperate tackle just before he grounded the ball.
The Chiefs finally broke through against the run of play in the 53rd minute when they charged down a ball and Tanerau Latimer went over the line after Tawera Kerr-Barlow found him with a deft offload as he was being tackled.
The try galvanized the Hurricanes, who had the better of the latter stages and gained a one-man advantage after Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna was sin-binned.
They surprisingly opted to kick the resulting penalty instead of going for five points, narrowing the gap to 17-12 but still needing to cross the line for a win, with the Chiefs’ defense proving up to the challenge.
REBELS V STORMERS
AFP, MELBOURNE, Australia
Australia’s Melbourne Rebels celebrated their first victory over South African opposition with a rousing 30-21 home win over the Western Stormers yesterday.
The Rebels romped home from 21-20 down with six minutes left to down the Cape Town-based Stormers with a contentious penalty try ruling to finish victors.
Nick Phipps was ruled to have been held back by Martin Bezuidenhout chasing after a kick ahead and the TMO recommended a penalty try as Phipps dived for the ball with Bryan Habana.
Bezuidenhout was sent to the sin bin leaving the Stormers a man down for the final minutes.
Both teams scored three tries with Jason Woodward proving the difference with three conversions and three penalties.
Scott Higginbotham was outstanding for the Rebels and scored his sixth try of the season in the 13th minute, before converted tries from scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and Habana’s first touchdown of the season put them 14-10 ahead.
Phipps came off the bench for the second half and provided the spark for the Rebels, playing a key role in the 54th-minute try by lock Hugh Pyle and then as the central figure in the controversial penalty try ruling.