Hurricanes keep Auckland feeling blue
Their name continued to remain apt for the Blues on Friday as they continued their losing sequence, with arch-rivals the Hurricanes running out comprehensive 35-19 victors in the north island derby in Wellington.
The Hurricanes scored five tries to one late individualistic effort from Rene Ranger but it was a match which was typical of the season for both teams -- the Hurricanes, who are the top try scorers in the competition, scoring brilliant tries off turn-over ball and from broken play while the Blues had enough possession but were prevented from using it through a high error rate and lack of accuracy.
It was a close game for most of the way, particularly in the first half, which the Blues started as if they were going to back up the intent telegraphed by a week where the senior players apparently took charge at training. One of those senior players, Piri Weepu, is of course a former Wellingtonian, and when he kicked four first-half penalties to propel his team into a 12-8 lead after half an hour, it looked as though he might have the last laugh against the franchise that didn’t want him.
Up until that point, and even though the Hurricanes had scored the only try of the game off a brilliant Cory Jane challenge on a Beauden Barrett high ball on the Blues line that was tapped back for skipper Conrad Smith to complete the score, the Blues were enjoying the better of the game.
They had the advantage in the territorial battle and in the fight for possession, most significantly the set-scrums, where the Hurricanes unit appeared to be under constant pressure.
But the Hurricanes have several game-breakers in their team, and fullback Andre Taylor completely justifies the comparisons that are being made between him and former Hurricanes great, Christian Cullen. He enjoyed a lot of help from the equally impressive Cory Jane, who was responsible for forcing the initial turn-over inside the Hurricanes half before tapping it back and then taking the return pass before drawing the defence perfectly with a superbly angled run that put Taylor in down the right flank.
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Barrett had an off-night with the angled kicks at goal, but he made up for the missed conversion by kicking a relatively straight-forward penalty shortly before the break to make it 16-12 to the Hurricanes at halftime.
Weepu had enjoyed a 100% goalkicking success rate up to that stage but missed one shortly before the 50 metre mark which proved to be the last Blues scoring opportunity until Ranger’s late effort when the match was won and lost.
The Hurricanes showed their intent with a brilliant quick hand attack that was inspired by the skill of Barrett and Smith with their catching and passing as Julian Sevea was put over in the left corner only for the TMO to rule that a foot had been placed on the touchline in the act of scoring.
No matter for the Hurricanes though, they struck back with another equally impressive attack just minutes later, and this time there was no denying the try was good as Barrett and Smith again combined in the build-up, this time Barrett taking the ball with great skill at the gainline, to put the self-same Sevea over in the same corner.
Barrett missed the conversion but the Hurricanes were more than a converted try ahead for the first time in the match, and the one big failing of the Blues has been the way they tend to panic and rush it when chasing the game. And that chase became an even bigger challenge when nippy scrumhalf TJ Perenara, whose incisive running and decision-making was at the heart of much that went right for the hosts, scored off a five metre scrum, with that the Hurricanes improving that aspect of their game quite dramatically in the second half.
Ranger’s try for the Blues was brilliant and proved he is more than just a runner as he chased down his own superbly targeted kick ahead, gathered on the bounce and scorched the remaining 30 odd metres to score. So with five minutes to go the Blues were in with a chance of scoring a bonus point, and rightly they threw caution to the winds in that quest.
Unfortunately that policy usually presents the opposition with as many chances as you create, and it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Hadley Chase threw out a wild pass inside his own 22 after calling for a mark and it grabbed by Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton, who had too much momentum to be stopped as he went over near the posts.
HURRICANES 35 – Tries: Andre Taylor, Conrad Smith, Julian Sevea, TJ Perenara and Jason Eaton; Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2); Penalties: Beauden Barrett (2).
BLUES 19 – Try: Rene Ranger; Conversion: Lachie Munro; Penalties: Piri Weepu (4).