Beauden Barrett scored 14 points in the Hurricanes' 29-23 bonus-point victory over the Crusaders in Wellington. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Saturday's result sees the Hurricanes consolidating their position at the top of the New Zealand conference and overall log. While they were outplayed by the Crusaders at the set pieces and breakdowns on this occasion, the Hurricanes made their counter-attacking opportunities count. And no player was more influential in this regard than the hosts' flyhalf, Barrett.
The Crusaders failed to make the most of their set-piece and territorial dominance in the first half. Flyhalf Colin Slade started well for the visitors, creating one try and scoring another, but he will lament the two penalty goals he missed during the first period, as well as a couple of wayward tactical kicks.
In the 10th minute, Barrett swooped on a loose ball in his own 22, and raced 90m to score. More poor kicking by the Crusaders allowed the Hurricanes to counter-attack and finish the half on level terms. The 17-17 scoreline was not a true reflection of the Crusaders' dominance.
Ma'a Nonu was penalised for a cynical breakdown infringement in the 29th minute, and spent 10 minutes in the sin bin. And yet, it was the Hurricanes who finished the half strongly.
While the hosts still battled at the set pieces in the second stanza, they continued to back themselves on the counter-attack. The Crusaders managed to repel the Hurricanes in that period after the break, making some timely breakdown turnovers on their own tryline. However, the momentum had shifted in the Hurricanes' favour, and the hosts would eventually earn some reward.
The Hurricanes crossed the line through Reggie Goodes in the 56th minute, and Barrett nailed the conversion to extend the hosts' lead to four points. Barrett then sparked the match-deciding play in the 63rd minute, a sweeping counter-attack that resulted in a try and a 29-23 advantage for his side.
And once again, the opportunity arose from a poor Crusaders tactical kick. Barrett took the ball comfortably, and then set off on a run straight through the middle of the Crusaders defence. While he was brought to ground, he still managed to offload.
From there, the support play and passing of the Hurricanes was brilliant. This spectacular team display eventually culminated in a try for Blade Thomson in the left-hand corner. It marked the fourth of the night for the Hurricanes, and thus the bonus point.
Barrett was forced to leave the field in the 71st minute with an ankle injury, but somehow the Hurricanes managed to hang on for the win.
The Crusaders rallied strongly in those dying minutes, keeping the ball through the phases and moving closer and closer to the hosts' tryline. The Hurricanes held their defensive shape, and it was the Crusaders who made the handling error that brought an end to the game.
Hurricanes – Tries: Beauden Barrett, Brad Shields, Reggie Goodes, Blade Thomson. Conversions: Barrett (3). Penalty: Barrett.
Crusaders – Tries: Dan Carter, Colin Slade. Conversions: Slade (2). Penalties: Slade (3).
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Callum Gibbins, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 James Marshall.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images