Left wing James Lowe scored a hat-trick for the Chiefs against the Waratahs. Photo: Bruce Lim, www.photosport.nz

HAMILTON – A hat-trick to James Lowe saved the Chiefs as they survived a second half fightback by the Waratahs to win their Super Rugby clash 46-31 in Hamilton on Saturday.

The Chiefs looked to have the game sewn up with a 32-3 lead early in the second spell, only for a resurgent Waratahs to close the gap to 39-31 before Lowe scored for the third time just before fulltime to put victory beyond doubt.

The Waratahs four-try second-half spurt, while it ultimately did them no favours, denied the Chiefs a bonus point, which could prove crucial in the tightly packed New Zealand conference.

“It would have been even better if we had been able to get a bonus point out of that. In patches we played pretty well, but again the consistency in performance is letting us down,” co-captain Aaron Cruden said.

The Chiefs play the Hurricanes next weekend in a match which could decide who finishes second in the New Zealand group, with the reward of a likely quarter-final in Australia rather than a long trip to South Africa at stake.

New Zealand sides, led by the unbeaten Crusaders, have already wrapped up the Australasian wildcards for the playoffs, while the Waratahs’ only hope of making the final eight is to win the Australian conference led by the Brumbies.

But despite the second-half revival against the Chiefs, the Waratahs came up short and remain nine points behind the Brumbies, who have three games to play, while the Waratahs have only two left.

While Lowe, who joins Irish club Leinster at the end of the season, was setting the ground alight with his ability to find the line, fullback Damian McKenzie was sending a reminder to the All Black selectors of his potential.

McKenzie, who leads the competition for carries and metres gained, was on top of his game with a hand in four of the Chiefs’ six tries, landed 16 points off the boot and was a constant thorn in the Waratahs defence with his ability to create space.

All Black coach Steve Hansen is already sweating on the fitness of fullback Ben Smith, who failed a concussion test during the Highlanders’ 25-22 nail-biting defeat against the Crusaders earlier on Saturday.

However, McKenzie did not help his cause with a wild pass that was intercepted by Rob Horne for the Waratahs’ first try.

The diminutive McKenzie was then unable to bring down giant prop Sekope Kepu, who galloped 60 metres for the Waratahs’ fourth and final try.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow scored twice for the Chiefs and Mitchell Brown also touched down, while Will Skelton and Cameron Clark also scored for the Waratahs, with Bernard Foley kicking four conversions and a penalty.

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