WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Jordie Barrett slotted a 78th-minute penalty to shake up the Super Rugby playoffs scenario as the Wellington Hurricanes recorded a 31-22 victory to end the Canterbury Crusaders quest for a perfect season on Saturday.
The loss ended the Crusaders hopes of becoming the first side to record a perfect regular season since their class of 2002 achieved the feat. They ended with a 14-1 record.
It also ensured the Hurricanes would only need to travel to Canberra next week for the quarter-finals, with the Waikato Chiefs heading to Cape Town to face the Stormers.
The Chiefs had beaten the Brumbies 28-10 earlier in Hamilton and put pressure on the Hurricanes to win the game and move back into the fifth-seeding for the playoffs.
South Africa’s Lions could also now snare top spot and home advantage for the playoffs later on Saturday if they beat the Sharks in Durban.
The match between the two local rivals at Wellington Regional Stadium had been expected to be intense with numerous All Blacks team mates facing off in the game with massive consequences.
The Hurricanes, however, had been forced into major shakeup of their backline immediately before the game with flyhalf Beauden Barrett a late withdrawal due to illness, while Vince Aso was injured during the warmup.
Otere Black came off the bench to play flyhalf, Jordie Barrett moved from fullback to centre, Nehe Milner-Skudder switched to fullback from the wing, with Wes Goosen coming onto the right wing from the bench.
The Crusaders took advantage of that late shakeup with Seta Tamanivalu grabbing two tries inside the first 13 minutes as the Hurricanes looked disorganised on defence.
The home side slowly worked their way back into the game as the Crusaders fell foul of referee Glen Jackson, which allowed the Hurricanes to get field position.
The Crusaders fast defensive line, which had kept the home side at bay, finally cracked when Barrett crossed from a well-worked backline move that ensured his side went into the break trailing 12-7.
Julian Savea gave the Hurricanes the lead just after the break when he tapped down a Black cross kick and snapped up the bouncing ball, before Richie Mo’unga gave the Crusaders the lead again with the first penalty kick of the game.
The visitors then extended the lead when Israel Dagg exploited the revamped backline with Barrett rushing out of the line.
The Hurricanes, however, refused to buckle and Goosen crossed from an attacking scrum, before Vaea Fifita managed to keep his feet in play when he went over in the corner.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury,; Editing by Pritha Sarkar