Scrumhalf TJ Perenara scored a brace of tries as the Hurricanes secured a 23-19 win over the Blues at Eden Park on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
What a game this was. In a match where momentum swung one way and then the other, it was the Canes who desperately hung on for a thrilling victory. In the final passages of play, the Blues repeatedly battered away just metres from the tryline as they desperately went in search of a match-winning try.
In the dramatic final moments, Hurricanes No 8 Victor Vito was sent to the sin bin after repeated infringements, but somehow the visitors' courageous defence held out, and an error from the Blues finally brought the highly entertaining encounter to an end.
After starting their season with back-to-back defeats, the Canes were finally able to return to winning ways, and there were certainly encouraging signs that last year’s runners-up are beginning to rediscover some of their form of old.
The Blues made a dominant start to the clash, but would have been frustrated to be just 3-0 ahead after the opening quarter, with flyhalf Ihaia West missing two relatively easy penalties before finally slotting one from right in front.
The hosts would receive additional reward when winger Rene Ranger displayed superb finishing skills to score in the corner in the 23rd minute, but the missed conversion left the Blues ruing eight points that had gone a-begging.
Not long after and the Hurricanes made them pay as Vito scored from the back of a driving maul after their first meaningful foray into the Blues’ 22, and suddenly it was just a one-point ball game.
It signified a considerable momentum shift, and the Canes struck again on the half hour mark as Perenara finished off a breakaway try, while Barrett added a penalty before the break to hand the visitors a seven-point lead.
The Blues made an ideal start to the second stanza when centre George Moala went over for their second try, but the hosts’ ill-discipline continued to let them down, and after the Canes opted to kick a penalty to the corner, Perenara eventually dived over for his second try.
It enabled the Canes to open up a 10-point buffer, and fortune continued to run in their favour as the TMO ruled out a try to Blues winger Tevita Li after concluding that he’d received a forward pass.
Nevertheless, West managed to reduce the deficit to four points after slotting a couple of quick-fire penalties, and suddenly it was game on once again, but ultimately the Canes held on for an all-important victory.
Blues – Tries: Rene Ranger, George Moala. Penalties: Ihaia West (3).
Hurricanes – Tries: Victor Vito, TJ Perenara (2). Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Barrett (2).
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Male Sa’u, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Melani Nanai.
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Cory Jane.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images