Two flashes of Beauden Barrett genius have booked the Hurricanes a second-successive Super Rugby final appearance following a 25-9 win over the Chiefs.
Brilliant playmaker Barrett created one long-range try and scored another in Saturday’s first half of a rugged semi-final.
His side will return to Wellington next weekend, hoping to improve on last year’s loss in the decider to the Highlanders.
It could be a repeat of that game, with the Highlanders facing the Lions late on Saturday night (2300 AEST) in the second semi-final in Johannesburg.
Whoever qualifies will need to find a way to quell All Blacks game-breaker Barrett, along with flanker Ardie Savea, who was immense in both attack and defence.
Without the pair, the home side might have struggled to overcome a Chiefs side who held sway at scrum and lineout time and dominated territory in cold, blustery conditions.
The Hurricanes stubbornly protected their tryline against a Chiefs side who had scored 76 tries this season, including eight in last week’s quarter-final rout of the Stormers.
The travel could be one explanation for an error-riddled Chiefs attacking display, the two-time champions unable to conjure the brilliant finishing that has been a trademark of their season. Three penalties to fullback Damian McKenzie provided their only points.
It was the top-seeded Hurricanes who capitalised on their chances, leading 15-6 at halftime courtesy of Barrett’s speed and anticipation.
He broke the game open in the seventh minute from 75m out when he received turnover ball. A chip and regather was followed by a searing looping run before linking with inside centre Willis Halaholo to complete a memorable try.
McKenzie and Barrett traded penalties before the Hurricanes’ No.10 intercepted a loose pass from Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane and raced 55m.
The outcome was virtually sealed when No.8 Victor Vito, playing his second-last game for the Hurricanes, drove across after some nice deception off the back of the scrum.
The Chiefs dominated the last half-hour, but trading penalty goals was all they could muster, with the visitors still unable to cross, while the Hurricanes’ winger Cory Jane was in the sin bin for a deliberate infringement.
Victory was the seventh in a row for the Hurricanes, the only New Zealand team still to win a Super Rugby title.
They will hope captain Dane Coles will be fit, with the All Blacks’ hooker ruled out of the match with a rib injury.