WELLINGTON, New Zealand - TJ Perenara scored a double as Wellington Hurricanes bounced back into form to beat Waikato Chiefs 32-31 in their Super Rugby quarter-final in Wellington on Friday.
After limping into the competition's knockout phase with four losses from five matches, the Hurricanes led from the outset against the Chiefs. Julian Savea set up the victory with a try in the first minute and while the Chiefs drew level three times they could never overtake their New Zealand rivals.
Perenara scored tries either side of half time before Ben Lam sealed the win to set up a semi-final next week with the winner of Saturday's clash between defending champions Canterbury Crusaders and South Africa's Coastal Sharks.
Both sides posted four tries apiece but the scoreline flattered the Chiefs, with the match effectively over by the time Damian McKenzie and Lachlan Boshier registered two late tries. "A win's a win and we'll take that in the playoffs because one point is enough for us and we're ecstatic about that," Hurricanes captain Brad Shields said.
The Chiefs beat the Hurricanes 28-24 last week but Waikato skipper Sam Cane said the 2016 champions were far more committed, particularly at the breakdown and on defence. "They were a different beast to what we saw last week, they played really well and I wish them all the best for the next few weeks," he said.
Savea intercepted McKenzie's looping pass to dot down after 48 seconds, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. He almost had another two minutes later when he swooped on a stray Brad Weber pass but was run down by Anton Lienert-Brown.
Weber atoned for his error to hit back with a try for the Chiefs, leaving the Hurricanes defence flat-footed as he combined with Shaun Stevenson on the left wing. A Beauden Barrett penalty gave the Hurricanes an edge as a rash of handling errors in windy conditions saw the Chiefs struggle to build momentum in attack.
They remained patient but could not breach the Hurricanes defence, settling for a McKenzie penalty to lock the scores at 10-10. The Hurricanes regained the advantage when Perenara squeezed between a crush of Chiefs players for his first try, awarded after a television review overturned the referee's initial ruling that the halfback knocked-on.
Lienert Brown levelled for the Chiefs in the 52nd minute when a fortunate bounce from a Charlie Ngatai kick allowed Lachlan Boshier to put his team on the attack. But Perenara had the answer, darting over from the base of the scrum for his second after a strong run from Jordie Barrett in the build up.
Ben Lam then gave the Hurricanes a significant buffer for the first time, scoring in the corner with 11 minutes remaining to make it 32-17 after Jordie Barrett's sideline conversion. It meant McKenzie and Boshier's late efforts were not enough to save the Chiefs' season.