Beauden Barrett inspired the Hurricanes to a 28-24 win against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
With nine minutes to go of this absorbing New Zealand derby, the Canes were trailing 24-21 and under the cosh. They needed someone to spark them back into action, and that man was Beauden Barrett.
The flyhalf received possession on his 10m line, chipped over the defence and regathered possession, before taking play to just inside the Blues 22. Sixteen phases later, Mark Abbott picked the ball up from the back of a ruck close to the right-hand touchline, and attacked down the blind side to score his second try. Jordie Barrett slotted his fourth conversion of the night.
The Canes were able to finish the game inside opposition territory, and expertly wound down the clock to ensure the win. For the Blues, it was a ninth defeat in their last 10 home matches against Kiwi opposition.
The champions signalled their attacking intent early in this match when they turned down a gimmie three points and opted to scrum from 10m out. From the set piece, Beauden Barrett took play to within a couple metres of the tryline, and after Ardie Savea came close, Abbott crashed over.
But the Blues hit back from the restart when they forced a turnover and Augustine Pulu got the ball out wide to Melani Nanai. The winger threw a dummy that fooled TJ Perenara and then a one-handed offload in the tackle put his scrumhalf away for a try that made it 7-7 after just six minutes.
The Canes regained the lead on the quarter-hour mark with a try from another scrum, this time from 65m out. Beauden Barrett broke away down the blind side and burst through a gap between two defenders. He shaped to kick towards the touchline, but then passed inside to Ngani Laumape, who evaded two defenders to score under the posts.
But again the Blues responded quickly when the ball went wide to Steven Luatua. He bumped off a defender near halfway and then offloaded in the tackle just outside the Canes 22 to send Melani Nanai away for a converted try that levelled the scores.
However, the Blues undid that good work when they won a lineout close to the Canes 22 and Laumape was unable to collect Pulu's pass, which went too high. Beauden Barrett kicked the loose ball ahead, regathered it and raced 50m to score his side's third try.
Minutes later, the Canes flyhalf received yet another yellow card for an intentional knock-down, having received two yellows (and a red) for the same offence against the Waratahs last weekend.
But the Blues were unable to score any points while he was off the field and had to wait until the 54th minute for a penalty from replacement Bryn Gatland to narrow the gap.
The match then came to life again, with the visitors coming close to scoring a try on two occasions, only for a turnover and then a knock-on to deny them.
The hosts then worked their way back into opposition territory and used their big men to bash away inside the red zone. Jerome Kaino was brought to ground inches from the tryline, but there was no stopping Scott Scrafton, who put the Blues ahead by three with 15 minutes to go.
At that stage, the hosts would have been confident of victory, but Barrett's brilliance in the 71st minute secured yet another win for the Super Rugby champions.
Blues – Tries: Augustine Pulu, Melani Nanai, Scott Scrafton. Conversions: Piers Francis (2), Bryn Gatland. Penalty: Gatland.
Hurricanes – Tries: Mark Abbott (2), Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (4).
Blues – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 George Moala.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Cory Jane.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images