The Hurricanes have repeated as Super Rugby regular season winners after a final round stacked full of twists, turns and boilovers.
Former leaders the Lions crashed to a 34-22 upset loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday (Sunday AEST) to hand the Hurricanes top spot on a congested table.
The Wellington-based side were seeded eighth heading into the final round but a stunning 35-10 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch – including a vital bonus point – was followed by a string of other results going their way.
“The Crusaders are a great team, they’ve proved it in the past,” said Lions captain Ross Cronje.
“We have to come out hungry next week and play the game we know we can play.”
Five teams finished on 11 wins but the Hurricanes’ nine bonus points gave them 53 points, scraping ahead of 52 each for the Lions and defending champion Highlanders and 51 each for the Chiefs and Stormers.
With conference winners hosting next week’s quarter-finals, two New Zealand teams must travel to South Africa while the Highlanders will be in Canberra on Friday to meet the Brumbies, a team who accrued nine fewer competition points.
The Highlanders claimed the top wildcard spot with a 25-15 home win over previous Kiwi conference leaders the Chiefs.
Neither team bagged a bonus point, playing into the Hurricanes’ hands.
Then, in a final twist, a Lions side fielding a second-string XV to rest their top players failed to pick up a point against a Jaguares side who notched just a fourth win of their inaugural season.
The Lions will host the seven-time champion Crusaders while the Stormers are at home to the Chiefs with games are on Sunday morning (AEST).
The Hurricanes are home to the eighth-seeded Sharks on Saturday.