Ma'a Nonu against the Chiefs - Source: Photosport
The Chiefs and Hurricanes have battled out a 18-18 draw in the penultimate round of the Super Rugby competition in Hamilton tonight.
With both sides out of playoff contention, the Chiefs pulled out to a 10 point lead at half-time before the Hurricanes stormed back into the contest to very nearly give prop Neemia Tialata a win in his 100th Super Rugby match.
Hurricane villain, Ma'a Nonu, almost snatched the match with 10 minutes to go after a Victor Vito break but in a cruel piece of theatre his hands let him down in the slippery conditions.
But the All Black second five-eight played strongly after a traumatic week in Hurricane country and a number of other All Black hopefuls delivered too.
Aaron Cruden, after a shocking start led to the Chiefs striking early, showed his promise is slowly turning into class at this level with a strong running game and increased distance on his punt kicks while Chiefs winger Sitiveni Sivivatu and centre Richard Kahui pushed their World Cup claims with two strong all-round displays.
But it was the All Black pair of Nonu and Andrew Hore who clearly had the most to prove after being sensationally shown the door by coach Mark Hammett earlier this week and it was the latter who gave a reminder of his crafty abilities when he burrowed over for the Hurricanes' only first half try.
Indeed Hore was very much enjoying the occasion. His banter with referee Vinnie Munro on the 30 minute mark, after the Hurricanes were denied a penalty, would have to go down as one of the highlights of an otherwise scrappy first half.
But Nonu wanted a part of the action too and made his statement just after the break with a clean break through Stephen Donald that led to a special Hosea Gear try.
It was especially amazing considering the conditions. Persistent rain had been belting down all day and within the first two minutes it was clear kicking tactics would be best advised.
But it wasn't long before a badly timed kick by Cruden was charged down by Chiefs' lock Craig Clarke. Nonu could only look in despair as Richard Kahui cemented the try for the Chiefs.
After a shocking kicking display last week against the Blues, Donald nailed both his first two shots at goal to give the Chiefs an early 10-0 lead.
Donald continued to put the Hurricanes under the pressure throgh the high ball, but it wasn't long before Cruden soon used the same tactics on the opposition and it eventually paid off as Hore powered over.
The Hurricanes had close to 60% of the territory and possession in the first half - and also had eight minutes in the Chiefs' 22 - but basic handling errors cost them any chance of adding to their tally.
And when another All Black with plenty to prove, Piri Weepu, inexplicably threw a ball between his legs that led to the Chiefs scoring through Isaac Ross on the stroke of halftime - the Hurricanes found themselves trailing by 15-5.
The Hurricanes came out firing after the break and it was that man Nonu who found his legs and broke the line by drawing in Kahui and handing off to a flying Corey Jane before a desperate inside pass eventually led to Gear's score.
Not long after Donald had two penalty opportunities but in challenging conditions he could bag only one.
The Hurricanes had their chances to steal the match. In the first instance, Weepu passed to his right through, Cruden, Jane and then onto an aerobatic Julian Savea who only just missed putting the ball down inside the corner post.
With 11 minutes remaining Aled de Malmanche was penalised for playing the ball on the ground and Cruden levelled the scores at 18-18.
Moments later Nonu had his moment to win the match but it wasn't to be.
The Hurricanes now close out their season at home against the Crusaders next Saturday while the Chiefs finish their campaign in Hamilton, also on Saturday, against the Reds.
Chiefs 18 (Tries: Richard Kahui, Isaac Ross.
Pens: Stephen Donald 2. Con: Stephen Donald)
Hurricanes 18 (Tries: Andrew Hore, Hosea Gear. Pens: Aaron Cruden 2. Con: Cruden)
Halftime: Chiefs 15-5
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