SYDNEY :Waikato Chiefs made it two wins out of two against the Canterbury Crusaders this year with a 34-24 victory in a Hamilton thriller on Saturday that extended their winning streak to nine games from the start of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
Flyhalf Damian McKenzie was again outstanding for the competition leaders, keeping the scoreboard ticking over with five penalties and setting up a late try for Shaun Stevenson with a trademark burst of speed through the midfield.
The reigning champion Crusaders scored tries through prop Tamaiti Williams, a penalty try and fullback Fergus Burke as well as having a couple of scores rubbed out by marginal calls.
They held a 24-22 lead nine minutes from time after a Richie Mo’unga penalty but the Chiefs would not be denied in front of a sellout crowd of 23,500 at their Waikato Stadium home.
After Stevenson had put them back in front, Brodie Retallick, who scored their opening try just after the break, and his fellow forwards muscled up to ensure the victory with hooker Tyrone Thompson crossing again in the dying seconds.
“It honestly means so much to us to have a crowd like this. It’s been a long time since (Waikato) stadium has been this packed,” said Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane.
“We know we’ve still got plenty of the comp left to go, so we’ll look at ways to making sure we can keep getting better.”
The victory sent the Chiefs eight points clear of the ACT Brumbies at the top of the standings after two thirds of the regular season.
In Friday’s big clash, the Wellington Hurricanes edged the Brumbies 32-27 in the New Zealand capital to move within a point of their rivals in third place.
Two sensational efforts from Brumbies lock Nick Frost were the pick of the four tries scored by both teams and ultimately it was the placekicking of Hurricanes centre Jordie Barrett that proved the difference.
The Auckland Blues came through one of the toughest assignments in Super Rugby on Saturday when a masterclass in game management from Beauden Barrett and set-piece dominance helped them to a 30-14 win over Fijian Drua in Lautoka.
Centre Rieko Ioane and loose forwards Dalton Papali’i and Cameron Suafoa scored tries despite the energy-snapping heat to leave the Blues a point behind the Hurricanes and two ahead of the Crusaders in the standings.
While the Canberra-based Brumbies have been clearly the best of the Australian teams this year, the New South Wales Waratahs breathed some life into their flagging campaign on Friday with a last-gasp win over the Otago Highlanders.
They needed a late converted try from replacement hooker Mahe Vailanu to claim the 21-20 victory that kept them inside the top eight places in the standings that will earn playoff spots.
Queensland Reds made it back-to-back wins with a 31-17 victory over Western Force that takes the Reds up to sixth in the table.
A strong first half from the Reds set them up for success as two tries from flanker Fraser McReight gave them a 21-5 lead at the break, an advantage they never looked like relinquishing.
Melbourne Rebels earlier held off a late Moana Pasifika rally to prevail 43-33 in the battle of the basement dwellers in Auckland, leaving their hosts rooted to the bottom of the standings without a win after 10 rounds.