Hamilton - Aaron Cruden kicked 14 points and won a contest with fellow All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett as the Chiefs beat the Hurricanes 24-16 on Friday to keep alive their defence of the Super Rugby title.
Cruden also helped to create a second-half try to lock Brodie Retallick which clinched victory for the Chiefs, who needed to beat the Hurricanes and must beat the Blues in their last regular-season match next weekend to have any chance of reaching the top-six playoffs.
The Chiefs, champions in the last two seasons, started the match in ninth place and rose to seventh with their two-tries-to-one win.
The Hurricanes stayed in fifth place but their chances of reaching the playoffs are now slight as they have a bye in next weekend's final round.
The Chiefs showed the benefit of their playoffs experience, playing intelligent rugby in what was effectively a knockout match.
They commanded possession and territory in the first half, mostly keeping the ball in hand and using strong ball-carriers such as lock Mike Fitzgerald and back-rower Liam Squire to attack the gain line.
When they went to the backs they moved the ball quickly wide, and ran strongly, stretching the Hurricanes defence, which missed eight tackles in the first half. The Chiefs had a decisive 61 percent of territory and 63 percent of possession before halftime.
“The effort's been there all year but we probably haven't put that onto the paddock,” Cruden said. “It was good to see it tonight.
“There were a lot of motivating factors. Obviously, our season was on the line and we wanted to come here with our last home game at Waikato Stadium, and put in a performance our fans could be proud of.
“We wanted to get back to what we do best which is up the guts, then chuck it wide, and it worked for us tonight. There were a few doubters out there coming into the match and I guess a bit of fear among ourselves, but through fear comes courage, and the boys showed a lot of that.”
The Chiefs built a 16-6 lead at halftime which was indicative of their superiority.
Cruden kicked three penalties and converted a 28th-minute try to prop Jamie Mackintosh. The Chiefs gambled by passing up a penalty kick in favour of a lineout, mauled the ball to the goal-line then drove over from an ensuing scrum.
Cruden then provided the vital link in a short-side move which led to Retallick's try in the 59th. He twisted through several tackles before providing the last pass to the All Blacks lock, who crashed onto the ball at pace.
Barrett kicked three penalties and the conversion of a 64th-minute try to centre Hadleigh Parkes. His first penalty carried him past 200 points for the season, making him the 11th player and the fourth from New Zealand to reach that milestone.
“There was enough effort and passion but we just didn't keep our heads and execute our skills very well,” Hurricanes captain Jeremy Thrush said. “We won our set-piece pretty well but we just didn't hold onto the ball through phases and put them under pressure.”
The Hurricanes must nervously await results over the next two weekends to discover whether they can yet sneak into the playoffs. If not, it will be the fourth time they have missed the post-season under coach Mark Hammett, who leaves at the end of the season to join the Cardiff Blues.
Chiefs 24 (Jamie Mackintosh, Brodie Retallick tries; Aaron Cruden conversion, 4 penalties),
Hurricanes 16 (Hadleigh Parkes try; Beauden Barrett conversion, 3 penalties).