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 in the second semi-final in Johannesburg on Sunday morning (NZT).
Whoever qualifies will need to find a way to quell All Blacks game-breaker Barrett, along with flanker Ardie Savea, who was immense in 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.
Stand-in captain TJ Perenara laud his team’s defence, which kept the Sharks scoreless in last week’s quarter-final.
“We defended for a big part of that game, especially in the first half, and that set the standard for us because this is a very, very good Chiefs team,” he said.
The travel could be another explanation for an error-riddled Chiefs attacking display, with the two-time champions unable to conjure the brilliant finishing that’s been a trademark of their season.
Three penalties to fullback Damian McKenzie provided their only points, with co-captain Aaron Cruden lamenting several botched try-scoring chances.
“The Hurricanes were just a little bit sharper than us. We dropped balls that we’ve been catching all year and that released the pressure valve,” Cruden said.
“We just didn’t front in enough areas. For such a young group, we’ll be better for this experience.”
The top-seeded Hurricanes led 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 second five-eighth 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.
Perenara expects his skipper to return.
“He’ll have to be broken not to play, he’s a tough man. He really wanted to play today.”