Defending champions the Waikato Chiefs moved back into top spot on the Super 15 ladder Friday after holding on to beat New Zealand rivals the Wellington Hurricanes 17-12.
The Chiefs scored the only try in wet conditions and produced a mighty defensive effort to smother a Hurricanes fightback as both teams notched four penalties in a match where scoring opportunities were scarce.
"Any game against the Hurricanes is a tough local derby and the conditions added to that," captain Craig Clark said.
The Chiefs first win in Wellington since 2001 puts them three points clear of the ACT Brumbies, who can overtake them again with a victory in their match against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.
It also extends their lead in the New Zealand conference, putting pressure on the Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders, who face off in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Hurricanes will now face an uphill struggle to make the play-off after posting six wins and six losses for the season.
Defence dominated a tight first half, with both sides opting to kick rather than run the ball in the rain. The Chiefs went into the break up 12-9 after Aaron Cruden booted four penalties to Beauden Barrett's three.
Chiefs number eight Matt Vant Leven came closest to a try in the 26th minute when he charged down a kick and took off for the tryline, only for Jason Eaton to drag him into touch with a desperate tackle just before he grounded the ball.
It was more of the same after the restart as the slippery ball forced mistakes from both sides, with the Hurricanes pressuring the Chiefs' but failing to make it count.
The Chiefs finally broke through against the run of play in the 53rd minute when they charged down a ball and Tanerau Latimer charged over the line after Tawera Kerr-Barlow found him with a deft offload as he was being tackled.
The try galvanised the Hurricanes, who had the better of the latter stages and gained a one-man advantage after Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna was sin-binned for a ruck infringement.
They surprisingly opted to kick the resulting penalty instead of going for five points, narrowing the gap to 17-12 but still needing to cross the line for a win, with the Chiefs' defence proving up to the challenge.