(Corrects score in first para)
July 13 (Reuters) - A second-half comeback by the Wellington Hurricanes was just enough to seal a home quarter-final next week despite losing 28-24 on Friday to the Waikato Chiefs, who played 17 minutes with 14 men.
The Chiefs had raced out to a 21-0 lead courtesy of tries to Brodie Retallick, Neil Weber and Solomon Alaimalo before the Hurricanes got back to 21-19 through tries to Wes Goosen, Blade Thomson and Ben May with about 15 minutes remaining.
May crossed about two minutes after Jonny Fa’auli was given a red card by referee Mike Fraser for a high tackle on Goosen and the Chiefs centre will likely miss next week’s quarter-final between the two sides in Wellington.
Hurricanes’ winger Julian Savea scored a try on the final hooter to ensure his side cemented fourth-place on 51 competition points, with the Chiefs finishing on 49.
Both sides had already qualified for the playoffs and were really only playing for home advantage next week, with the Hurricanes holding the advantage on competition points and having a better overall points differential.
The Hurricanes, however, have looked discombobulated since they struggled to overcome the Queensland Reds in mid-May losing their next three games before they beat the Auckland Blues 42-24 last week.
They continued that pattern of erratic play in the first half with their pack disjointed and not working as a unit, while the backs’ passing was laboured and poorly directed, which put their runners under pressure.
Both Weber’s and Alaimalo’s tries were products of breakdown in the Hurricanes attacks, with the scrumhalf scooting away for 70 metres following his intercept of a telegraphed inside pass from Beauden Barrett.
Alaimalo crossed after the Chiefs turned the ball over and attacked down the blindside with Shaun Stevenson brilliantly keeping the ball in play before he found the fullback inside him to give them a 21-0 halftime lead after Retallick’s earlier try.
Goosen opened his side’s account in the second half when he finished off following a strong run down the left touchline from Ben Lam, while Thomson got his side to 21-14 after an attacking scrum.
May crossed to reduce the gap further before Chiefs flanker Mitch Karpik ripped the ball off team mate Liam Messam to give his team a 28-19 advantage with 10 minutes remaining. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)