TOKYO – A week after suffering one of the worst defeats in the history of Super Rugby, Japan's Sunwolves rebounded with its first-ever win in the tournament, beating Argentina's Jaguares 36-28.
The Sunwolves were routed 92-17 by South Africa's Cheetahs in last weekend's eighth round, conceding 14 tries in a match that supported fears they would be uncompetitive in world rugby's toughest professional competition.
But they showed character by bouncing back at their home stadium in Tokyo to top the Jaguares, who were playing their fourth-straight match away from home.
Former Samoa flyhalf Tusi Pisi kicked 18 points as the Sunwolves rallied from 18-13 down at halftime to win despite being outscored four tries to three. Yasutaka Sasakura, Derek Carpenter and Harumichi Tatekawa scored the Sunwolves' tries.
Later, the Chiefs held on with 14 men in a match of repeated lead changes to beat the Hurricanes 28-27 in the best match of the season so far.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs achieved their sixth-straight win to cement their place atop the championship table after nine rounds.
Fullback Jason Woodward had the chance to win the match for the Hurricanes in the final minute but wasn't able to hold a pass from flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who had broken the defensive line and left the goalline open.
Barrett was Man of the Match, winning the much-anticipated contest with his rival for the All Blacks No. 10 jersey this season, the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden. Barrett scored a try and made another, was outstanding in all aspects of general play and kicked only the fifth dropped goal in the Hurricanes' history.
But he had a poor night from the kicking tee, landing only one of six attempts in a lapse that proved costly in a close match.
The lead changed hands four times in the first half, once more in the second and the Chiefs held onto a one-point lead for 11 minutes to gain a rare win in Wellington.
They played the last five minutes of the match with 14 men when they effectively ran out of replacements after a series of injuries to front rowers. The Chiefs' scrum was under strain throughout the match and they won a strange reprieve in the 75th minute when their lack of a front row replacement led to uncontested scrums.
"Jeez mate, I thought we were a bit lucky to be honest," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "I didn't think we played overly well tonight but luckily we managed to come away with the win.
"The Hurricanes put a lot of pressure on and I think they will probably be kicking themselves. They were probably the better team tonight but sometimes rugby's funny like that."
The pace of the match never flagged from the fourth minute when Barrett created the opening try for winger Cory Jane. Five minutes late the Chiefs claimed the lead for the first time with a contentious try to Seta Tamanivalu, who appeared to drop the ball over the goalline.
Barrett's rare dropped goal gave the Hurricanes an 8-7 lead but the Chiefs went ahead again with Tamanivalu's second try, which seemed to come from a forward pass. Hurricanes captain Dan Coles barged over to give his team a 15-14 lead at halftime after the last of the first-half lead changes.
The Chiefs put themselves ahead again with a try to backrower Michael Leitch in the 44th minute and didn't relinquish the lead from that pint. The Hurricanes cut the margin to one point with a try to T.J. Perenara but the Chiefs surged ahead again with a touchdown to Taleni Seu.
Barrett's late try again reduced the margin to a single point but Woodward's handling error in the final minute put an end to the home team's comeback.
"We had a number of chances but we just couldn't convert," Coles said. "It's a bit gutting I suppose but that's footy."