(Reuters) - The Waikato Chiefs struck a psychological blow against the Wellington Hurricanes ahead of their quarter-final next week with a 28-24 victory in their final regular season clash in Hamilton on Friday, despite playing 17 minutes with just 14 men.
Chiefs centre Johnny Fa’auli was sent off for a high tackle on Wes Goosen, but the manner in which the home side had raced out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and held off the Hurricanes was telling heading into the quarter-final next week in Wellington.
The Chiefs, the 2012 and 2013 champions, were below strength on Friday with several first-choice players being rested, while Brodie Retallick, who scored one of their three first-half tries, was coming back from a lengthy injury break.
The Hurricanes were virtually at full strength but have looked discombobulated since they struggled to overcome the Queensland Reds in mid-May. They have now lost four of their last five games and could be without Goosen next week.
“He’s failed two HIAs (head injury assessment) so he’s probably somewhere less than 50-50 for next week, which is disappointing for him,” Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd told Stuff Media of Goosen’s chances.
Captain Brad Shields suffered a rib injury and is also in doubt for next week.
“I’m a little bit sore,” Shields said. “We’ll see how it settles down in the next couple of days and go from there. I think she’s a bit too early to tell how bad it could be.”
Boyd’s side will have plenty to work on in the next week.
They continued their pattern of erratic play in the first half, with their pack not working as a unit and lacking in physicality, while the backs appeared laboured and passing poorly directed, which put their runners under pressure.
Both tries to the Chiefs’ Brad Weber and Solomon Alaimalo were products of breakdown in the Hurricanes attacks, which gave them a 21-0 halftime lead after Retallick’s earlier try.
The Hurricanes were much more organised in the second half, while they put the Chiefs under pressure with tactical kicking and got back to 21-19 through tries to Goosen, Blade Thomson and Ben May with about 15 minutes remaining.
The Chiefs, however, regrouped and extended their lead when Mitch Karpik ripped the ball off team mate Liam Messam to give his team a 28-19 advantage with 10 minutes remaining.
Hurricanes’ winger Julian Savea then scored a try on the final hooter to ensure his side cemented the fourth seed on 51 competition points, with the Chiefs finishing in fifth on 49.
In the late game in Brisbane, another red card hampered the Sunwolves in their clash with the Reds with flanker Ed Quirk sent off for punching the home side’s flyhalf Hamish Stewart.
Neither the Reds, who won 48-27, nor Sunwolves, who had winger Semisi Masirewa sent off for a tip tackle in their 77-25 loss to the New South Wales Waratahs last week in Sydney, were in contention for the playoffs.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Hugh Lawson