Lightning doesn’t strike twice. Try four times.
Damian McKenzie has done it yet again, in yet another thrilling Super Rugby Aotearoa victory for the Chiefs which has pushed them close to sealing their spot in the final.
In a pulsating 26-24 victory over the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday night, the hosts’ star playmaker came up trumps with the winning play for a fourth successive match, this time knocking a penalty over after the siren to send the crowd at FMG Stadium Waikato into wild celebrations.
Just as it looked like the bottom of the table, out of contention, Hurricanes would snatch it, the Chiefs had one last play to come up with some magic. And of course they did.
* Live: Chiefs v Hurricanes – Super Rugby Aotearoa, week nine
* The heart of Cronk: Why the Sydney Roosters want All Blacks star TJ Perenara in the NRL
* Super Rugby Aotearoa: Rieko Ioane, Dalton Papalii to co-captain Blues against Crusaders
Yet another massive scrum shunt brought them the ultimate gift – a penalty 45 metres out, in front of the sticks.
And then it was up to their golden boy – fill-in captain for the final quarter – to do the rest. And McKenzie knew it as soon as his right foot struck ball, raising his arms aloft, as his team-mates mobbed their hero.
With that fifth win on the bounce, the Chiefs are now safe in the knowledge that a spot in the final will be theirs if the Blues fail to pick up any points against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Sunday. Otherwise, the local neighbours’ battle at Eden Park next Saturday will decide second spot.
Again outscored three tries to two, McKenzie’s 16 points off the tee proved critical again, as the Chiefs recovered well from a horror start.
In never-before-scenes at the stadium, a group of local school students delivered a passionate haka in the grandstand in one corner of the ground in the moments before kickoff, however, almost before hairs on necks were flattening, the crowd were then sent into stunned silence, with Tyrel Lomax putting James Blackwell on a 25-metre surge to open the scoring after all of 54 seconds.
Finally with a bit of ball in their grasp, the Chiefs worked their way back into the contest, albeit somewhat ragged in their structure, with both teams guilty of coughing up plenty of pill.
McKenzie got them on the board off the tee in the 15th minute, then, after a couple of near misses, the hosts eventually found their opening five-pointer when Pita Gus Sowakula barged over off the back of a massive scrum shunt on the half-hour.
The strapping No 8 was an immense presence, in what was his first start of the season, proving a more than handy replacement for the absent Luke Jacobson (concussion).
But having weathered the storm through the middle of the half, the visitors went to halftime on level terms. No Hurricanes game would be complete without a long-range Barrett penalty, and the All Blacks utility duly obliged, knocking one over from 55 metres after the siren to send the teams to the break 10-10.
McKenzie nudged the Chiefs in front by three early in the second stanza, before Bryn Gatland single-handedly stole them the initiative.
Cleaning up a mess of a lineout with a super bit of skill, fly kicking and regathering, he got his side in position for a huge scrum, and off the back of that, the No 10 – starting for the first time since round three – sidestepped Ruben Love and scooted over.
The Hurricanes wouldn’t be deterred though, and in fact hit back just five minutes later, with Devan Flanders proving just as instrumental and inspirational, the rangy No 8 bursting clear in midfield, then also throwing the final pass – a lengthy back-flick – for Billy Proctor, just new on the field, to slide over.
While McKenzie missed a penalty from handy range, he made up for it straight after, which gave the Chiefs a 23-17 advantage at the hour-mark.
But it was the Hurricanes who surged into the box seat late, getting full value from their reserves, as Asafo Aumua then stormed his way over off the back of a lineout drive in the 68th minute.
Barrett’s conversion put the Hurricanes ahead.
But there was one more kick to come, of course.
AT A GLANCE
Chiefs 26 (Pita Gus Sowakula, Bryn Gatland tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 4 pen) Hurricanes 24 (James Blackwell, Billy Proctor, Asafo Aumua tries; Jordie Barrett 3 con, pen). HT: 10-10.