Vaea Fifita scored two second-half tries as the Hurricanes fought back to clinch a 37-27 win over the Blues in Wellington on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
It’s a result that keeps the Canes well on track for a quarter-final berth, but they’ll hardly be celebrating on the basis of Saturday’s performance.
Last year’s Super Rugby runners-up were extremely poor in a first half where they played it fast and loose, but they regained their composure after the interval and produced a vastly improved all-round display in the second stanza to come away with an important result.
In the end, they outscored the Blues 20-3 in the second half and ultimately bagged a result that keeps within touching distance of the Chiefs and Crusaders at the top of the New Zealand conference.
During an opening quarter where momentum swung one way and then the next, both sides traded blows in an entertaining contest that was filled with plenty of running, but also a fair number of errors.
Flankers Kara Pryor and Jerome Kaino both scored for the Blues early on, while Reggie Goodes and Dane Coles replied with tries for the Canes as the score remained locked at 17-17 just after the quarter-hour mark.
Although both sides displayed a willingness to keep the ball in hand, the Blues were the more clinical of the two teams, and the half-time stats illustrated their dominance. In the opening stanza, they had made 386m to the Hurricanes’ 271, beat 22 defenders to 13 and completed 74 carries to 55.
The biggest Achilles heel for a Canes side that came into the clash as favourites turned out to be a particularly porous defence, with the hosts missing a whopping 22 tackles in the first half alone.
Ultimately, the Blues were fully deserving of a 24-17 half-time lead, with Kaino scoring the visitor’s third try to edge them into the ascendancy at the break.
Centre Piers Francis extended that lead with a penalty soon after the restart, but the Canes duly responded as Beauden Barett quickly slotted two more three-pointers to keep the hosts in the hunt.
It was clear that the Canes had been instructed at half-time to adopt a far more measured approach and avoid being sucked into what coach Chris Boyd described as a game of ‘sevens’.
That change in approach enabled the Canes to work their way back into the contest and they hit the lead for the first time when Fifita burst through to score under the posts in the 55th minute.
Suddenly the Hurricanes found themselves hanging on to a three-point lead, and with less than 10 minutes remaining, Fifita again powered through a tackle to score a try that finally secured the result for the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes – Tries: Reggie Goodes, Dane Coles, Vaea Fifita (2). Conversions: Beauden Barrett (4). Penalties: Barrett (3).
Blues – Tries: Kara Pryor, Jerome Kaino (2). Conversions: Piers Francis (3). Penalties: Francis (2).
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Mark Abbott, Tony Lambourn, Jamison Gibson-Park, Willis Halaholo, Jason Woodward.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai,14 Matt Duffie, 13 Male S’au, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Sione Mafileo, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti/Hoani Matenga, Blake Gibson, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Lolagi Visinia.
Photo: Grant Down/Photosport