The Hurricanes continued their impressive resurgence and fairytale comeback by powering to a comprehensive 35-21 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Reds in Wellington on Saturday.
A couple of weeks ago the Hurricanes looked out of it, following a start to the season which included defeats in both their games in South Africa, but they have picked up a good head of steam since then. By securing the bonus point in burying the Reds they were able to move ahead of the Chiefs on the New Zealand conference table.
The Kiwi conference is certainly highly competitive this year, with the Highlanders also up in the top bracket now following their win over the Sharks in Durban on Friday night. The team from Dunedin started the weekend in last position on the New Zealand conference log.
The Hurricanes' win ruined the celebration of Reds skipper James Horwill, who was playing his 100th Super Rugby game for the franchise. It also finally extinguished any lingering hopes of the 2011 champions going anywhere this season.
It didn’t start badly for the Reds and they had the first points on the ball as loose-forward Beau Robinson thrust through a hole out wide and then put Ben Lucas in for the try. Quade Cooper was unable to convert, but then neither was Beauden Barrett able to convert when Jane was set free down the right for the Hurricanes’ first try in the 18th minute.
A Cooper penalty broke the deadlock and gave the Reds the lead briefly, but the Hurricanes were playing impressive rugby and applying a lot of pressure, with ascendancy in the scrums translating to assurance in other aspects of their game. Like the Highlanders in Durban the night before, the Hurricanes were impressive in spreading the ball away from the contact, and they also ran excellent lines.
Jane scored the second of what was to be a hattrick of tries when a prolonged Hurricanes build-up led to another sweep to the right, and the Reds simply ran out of defenders as Jane was set free again to go over in the right corner.
The Hurricanes would have won even more comprehensively on the scoreboard had it not been for Barrett’s wayward kicking. He missed his second conversion, which was admittedly from the touchline, but he also missed several penalty attempts. By contrast, after his initial miss, Cooper had his kicking boots laced on and he kicked two penalties before halftime to enable the Reds to enjoy a 14-10 lead at the halfway point.
Perhaps stung by whatever their coach told them when they were down at halftime, the Hurricanes swarmed all over the Reds at the start of the second half. However, initially it looked as if little mistakes were letting them down, with final passes just not going to hand, and there was also a bad place kick miss from Barrett.
Eventually, though, the pressure had to take its toll on the Reds and they were unable to prevent TJ Perenara from diving over near a recycle close to their line and the Hurricanes were back into a lead that they were to hold for the rest of the game. The prolonged build-up that led to Jane’s hattrick try, with the wing again really just having to catch the ball and run it in down a vacant right flank, was outstanding. It had all the elements that make Kiwi rugby so entertaining to watch, in contrast to what is produced from South African teams.
The Hurricanes might have thought they had it won by then, particularly once Barrett had added a penalty to make it 25-14, but the Reds caused some flutters of consternation when James Hanson swiveled over from a loose scrum as the Reds built up impressively from a set-scrum that was just outside the 22. The Cooper conversion made it 25-21 and the Hurricanes might have wondered if the wave of substitutions that came on might have been premature.
One of those subs, Ardie Savea, quickly dispelled that notion though as he squeezed over between the posts with four minutes to go off an attack that had featured some delightful bits of switch passing and direct running up the middle of the field. That was it, game set and match, but Barrett stepped up to kick another penalty just to rub it in and ensure that his team takes massive momentum into their next game.
Hurricanes- Tries: Cory Jane (3), TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett (2).
Reds - Tries: Ben Lucas, James Hansen. Conversion: Quade Cooper. Penalties: Cooper (3).