WELLINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - The Auckland Blues battled hard to keep their Super Rugby season alive but were held to a 16-16 draw by the Waikato Chiefs in miserable conditions at Eden Park on Friday.
Blues flyhalf Piers Francis narrowly missed a penalty that would have given the home side a three-point lead with seven minutes to go and neither side could break the deadlock as they played out their first ever stalemate.
The Chiefs battled back from a 13-3 deficit in the first half, with livewire fullback Damien McKenzie scoring a try and setting up a second for Jonathan Faauli in the 68th minute.
Rieko Ioane scored the Blues’ sole try in the first half.
The Blues are eight points adrift of the Highlanders in the New Zealand conference but the Otago-based team can end the Auckland side’s hopes of a playoff spot while sealing their own with a home win over the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday.
Second in the New Zealand conference, the Chiefs moved two points ahead of the Hurricanes, who take on the Bulls in South Africa on Saturday.
The Blues were the more willing side early in a tense and occasionally spiteful contest that was played out in driving rain by the finish.
Ioane scored the first try on the half-hour mark, taking a quick pass from scrumhalf Augustine Pulu, before sidestepping through the Chiefs’ defence and scampering a few metres over the line.
The Blues looked set to hold a 10-point lead at halftime but were foiled by McKenzie’s breath-taking speed, the diminutive fullback burning through a hole between two Blues forwards and bolting 30 metres to the left corner a minute before the break.
The game meandered for much of the second half, with tempers occasionally flaring as the Blues battled to hold on.
A turnover in midfield did break the game open, however, allowing McKenzie the space to guide a pin-point kick into the obliging arms of Faauli at the 22 and the inside centre charged over in the corner for the Chiefs’ second try.
Cruden was unable to convert but Francis failed to make the Chiefs pay a few minutes later when his penalty faded right of the posts. (Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by John O‘Brien)