The Hurricanes overturned a 14-point deficit to snatch a thrilling 31-31 draw against the British & Irish Lions in Wellington on Tuesday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
What a finish to the match this turned out to be as the Canes scored two late tries to deny the Lions a victory that looked virtually assured midway through the second half.
Indeed, the tourists looked to have sewn up the result when George North dotted down in the corner around the hour mark, with the Lions comfortably leading 31-17 at that point.
However, the TMO correctly spotted a foot in touch, while Lions lock Iain Henderson was then shown a yellow card soon after for a dangerous clean-out at a ruck.
It knocked open a door of opportunity for the Canes as South Africa-born Wes Goosen and Vaea Fifita went over to score soon after, which suddenly drew the scores level at 31-31 heading into the final 10 minutes.
From there, both teams had chances to clinch the result after extended periods of attack, while Lions flyhalf Dan Biggar unsuccessfully attempted a drop goal more than two minutes after normal time.
It meant both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils in a game that really had it all in terms of drama and dramatic momentum shifts. The Lions dominated the opening stanza, but the Canes battled back in the second half, with a draw perhaps a fair reflection in the end.
For New Zealand's Super Rugby sides, the Blues and Highlanders have now secured midweek wins over the Lions, while the Hurricanes have banked a hard-fought draw.
In the lead-up to this clash, the Hurricanes made no secret of the fact that their forwards would need to front up in the physical exchanges if they were to have any hope of overcoming the Lions.
And while the Canes’ pack certainly made an early statement when a massive scrum enabled them to win a turnover against the feed, this good work was immediately undone when they then conceded a needless penalty.
That was a microcosm of the Hurricanes’ ill-discipline early on, with the reigning Super Rugby champs conceding five successive penalties within the opening 12 minutes alone.
Only one of those was in goal-kicking range, with Biggar slotting a simple penalty, but the Canes continued to be their own worst enemies as a loose pass was snapped up by Greig Laidlaw, who darted away before feeding the ball to Tommy Seymour to score.
The Lions kept the scoreboard ticking over as Biggar slotted another long-range penalty in the 22nd minute, but they did suffer a blow when influential centre Robbie Henshaw had to leave the field with what looked to be a serious injury.
All in all, it took the Hurricanes nearly half an hour before finding any real rhythm to their play, with a patient build-up eventually resulting in a try to Callum Gibbins, but again an unnecessary penalty enabled Biggar to add another three points to the Lions’ tally.
Matters only went from bad to worse for the home side as they then failed to collect a contestable kick, with George North ultimately put away to score as the ball went astray, while the Lions completed a dominant first half when they quelled one final Canes attack before the break.
During the half-time interview, assistant coach John Plumtree said the Canes would have to score next to have any hope of competing, and they did just that when centre Ngani Laumape powered his way over the tryline just a minute after the restart.
It signalled a dramatic momentum shift as the Canes began to engage their high-paced power game, with a 50th-minute penalty to Jordie Barrett suddenly reducing the deficit to just six points.
Yet the Canes continued to be the architects of their own demise, with Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi sent to the sin bin for a high tackle, and in his absence, Biggar slotted a fourth penalty, while Seymour went over for his second try.
It seemed as if the Lions would run away with it from there, but then came the dramatic finish that enabled the Canes to deny the visitors a much-needed win ahead of this Saturday's second Test against the All Blacks.
British & Irish Lions – Tries: Tommy Seymour (2), George North. Conversions: Dan Biggar (2). Penalties: Biggar (4).
Hurricanes – Tries: Callum Gibbins, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Vaea Fifita. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (4). Penalty: Barrett.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James Haskell, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Joe Marler
Subs: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 George Kruis, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Jared Payne.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea; 10 Otere Black, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi; 8 Brad Shields (captain), 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Vaea Fifita; 5 Sam Lousi, 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 James Blackwell, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, 22 Wes Goosen, 23 Cory Jane.
Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images