WELLINGTON – Damian McKenzie orchestrated a 24-19 victory for the Chiefs over a hard-finishing Brumbies in Hamilton on Saturday, to keep their hopes of a Super Rugby home quarter-final alive.
It kept the Chiefs in touch with the Wellington Hurricanes for the fourth slot and a home quarter-final in the play-offs with the two New Zealand clubs set to meet in the final round of the regular season next week. The Brumbies, despite a storming second half in which they had the Chiefs rattled, left the field without a point and no longer with a chance of making the play-offs.
"I'm proud of the boys, they stayed in there right to the end," a relieved Chiefs skipper Charlie Ngatai said after the Brumbies had the better of the second half.
"We talked about starting strong. We did that, but we were a bit slow in the second."
It wasn't the same explosive start from the Chiefs that they produced a week ago against the Otago Highlanders but they won the critical moments.
The Brumbies suffered from a forward pass, a lack of numbers at the breakdown and the Chiefs' penchant for ripping the ball from the ball carrier which cost them at least three tries in the first half while the Chiefs had McKenzie in impeccable form. The diminutive All Blacks fly-half opened the scoring with a penalty and his ability to slip through the merest gap set up Nathan Harris for the Chiefs first try.
McKenzie finished the half by electing to run when the Chiefs won turnover ball on their own line and was on hand to finish off the end-to-end move with a try. He landed both conversions for the Chiefs to lead 17-0 at half-time.
Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano rued the ball retention.
"But I'm really proud the way we came back and nearly pinched it at the end."
After a long build up of forward drives the Brumbies put their first points on the ball when it was moved wide for Henry Speight to score in the corner. They were immediately on attack again, and within a few metres of the line when scrum-half Joe Powell fired a long pass to an unmarked Speight only for McKenzie to pop up for the intercept.
He took play back to the other end to the field where Johnny Faauli scored with McKenzie again landing the conversion. A late and high tackle saw replacement Chiefs flanker Jesse Parete sent to the sin bin which allowed the Brumbies to strike with tries to Tom Banks and Speight, both converted by Wharenui Hawera to close within five points.
They were heading towards the tryline again, with time on the clock, when a penalty allowed the Chiefs to put the ball out and claim the win.