You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
They had to fight for it, being locked in a tight battle before a second half surge earned a 32-31 win that sends them back to familiar territory, and ends the storied 179-game Chiefs career of Liam Messam.
Frankly, it's a little unfair that the Chiefs had to bow out at this stage. Arguably the third best side in the competition, Super Rugby's hopelessly idealistic playoff structure denied them of a deserved home quarter-final, instead having to travel to Wellington, where they ran into a more explosive Hurricanes outfit.
The Hurricanes are probably the team with the best chance of toppling the title favourite Crusaders, and sure enough, they'll likely get that chance next week, if the Crusaders deal to the Sharks as expected.
Tonight's clash will have been perfect preparation, with the Hurricanes avenging last week's defeat to the Chiefs in a derby battle that was typically lively and bruising in equal measure.
Chris Boyd's men have now won 22 of their last 23 home games, but home advantage is even more pivotal in Kiwi derbies – something that doesn't bode well for their hopes next week if the Crusaders prevail tomorrow night.
Of the 12 local derbies held this year between the four Kiwi playoffs sides, only once has a side won away from home. The Chiefs were benefactors of this trend last week when they tipped over the Hurricanes in Hamilton, but they found themselves outplayed as the Hurricanes whirled past them in the Wellington wind.
The conditions played a factor within the first minute – Damian McKenzie threw a hopeful long pass on his halfway line, but as the ball got caught in the blustery wind, Julian Savea plucked it out of the air and raced away for a startling early strike.
Remarkably, he nearly repeated the dose on the very next possession, snagging a misplaced Brad Weber pass, but his dash to the line was cut down by a desperate chase.
The Hurricanes were looking for knockout blows, but their eagerness went against them shortly after; with Beauden Barrett's attempted intercept only managing to ruin his side's defensive alignment, and two passes later Weber dotted down under the posts.
The Chiefs, who still haven't beaten a Kiwi team in the playoffs since their last title in 2013, were playing themselves into the clash, mounting pressure and playing patiently with ball in hand. The Hurricanes had to rack up a serious tackle count in the first half, but they made the most of their possession when it arrived, with TJ Perenara ruled to have just clung on as he scooted over from close range to put the hosts ahead at the break.
It was that clinicality that proved pivotal. While the Chiefs forced the Hurricanes into missing a staggering 41 tackles, they had little to show for it, and were guilty of coughing the ball up when opportunities emerged. Conversely, when the Hurricanes reached the Chiefs' redzone they struck, with first Perenara and then Ben Lam finishing off significant periods of pressure to build a 32-17 lead.
The Chiefs had one surge left in them, scoring twice in the last two minutes, but by then it was all too late – with the Hurricanes - once again - getting the job done at the business end of the season.
Hurricanes 32 (TJ Perenara 2, Julian Savea, Ben Lam tries; Beauden Barrett 2 cons, 2 pens, Jordie Barrett con)
Chiefs 31 (Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Lachlan Boshier tries; McKenzie 3 cons, pen, Charlie Ngatai con)