TJ Perenara’s second try with less than 20 minutes remaining sparked an increase in intensity from the Wellington Hurricanes as they held off the Waikato Chiefs 32-31 in their Super Rugby quarter-final on Friday.
Perenara’s five-pointer gave the 2016 champions a 25-17 lead and some much-needed belief for the final quarter of an intense encounter after they had spent a majority of the first half chasing the game.
The Hurricanes got off to a flyer when Julian Savea scored an intercept try in the first minute, while Ben Lam grabbed his 15th of the season as the hosts set up a semi-final against either the Canterbury Crusaders or South Africa’s Sharks.
Neil Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie and Lachlan Boshier scored tries for the visitors, who had beaten the Hurricanes 28-24 last week in Hamilton but gave themselves too much to do despite a late rally in the rematch.
“I think we played some really good football,” Hurricanes captain Brad Shields said. “Obviously, you look back and some aspects weren’t as good as we wanted, but a win is a win and we’ll take that.”
The Chiefs had kept their opponents scoreless in the first half of their last three games but Savea ended that streak inside 48 seconds when he intercepted a floating pass from McKenzie on halfway and gave the home side a 7-0 lead.
The France-bound former All Blacks winger had an opportunity to repeat the dose two minutes later when he grabbed another intercept deep inside his own territory but was run down by Lienert-Brown.
“We didn’t get off to a great start,” Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane said. “But we worked our way back into the game,” he added of the way his side controlled the ball, territory and found space seemingly at will in the first quarter.
While they conceded Weber’s try, somehow, the Hurricanes settled as the Chiefs errors increased, and several crunching tackles by Ngani Laumape and superb work at the breakdown by Gareth Evans got them back into the flow of the game.
Barrett and McKenzie traded penalties before Perenara gave the Hurricanes a 17-10 lead at the break, even if his try was only confirmed by the television match official after referee Glen Jackson thought the scrumhalf had lost the ball forward.
The Chiefs were able to exploit the wind to their advantage after the break when a clearing kick held up in the breeze, which allowed Boshier to pounce and set up field position for Lienert-Brown to tie the score.
Perenara’s second try was far more emphatic than his first as he smashed over from a solid attacking scrum as Lam sewed the game up before McKenzie and Boshier crossed in the final minutes to narrow the scoreline.