The Hurricanes smashed the Brumbies 29-9 in Wellington on Saturday to book their place in the Vodacom Super Rugby final. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Hurricanes will host this year's decider in Wellington, and deservedly so. They've been the form team over the league stage, with 14 wins in 16 matches. They were the superior side in the semi-final against the Brumbies, and the final scoreline doesn't reflect their dominance.
Of course, the Brumbies were at a significant disadvantage. They travelled from Canberra to Cape Town for the qualifying play-off against the Stormers, and then travelled back to New Zealand for his semi-final. They played down the fatigue factor in the lead-up to this game, but on the night, it was clear they weren't at their physical best.
The Hurricanes bossed the collisions as well as the breakdowns. Openside flanker Ardie Savea outplayed his much-fancied opponent, David Pocock, in that first half. Collectively, the Hurricanes were the more aggressive and accurate side at the point of contact.
The Hurricanes recognised the Brumbies' lack of energy, and sought to exploit it in the initial stages. TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett kept the ball in hand, and the outside backs were heavily involved. The hosts played the game at breakneck pace, and predictably, there were errors. Crucially, they stuck to their plan and continued to hammer away at limp Brumbies defence.
The visitors were especially susceptible in the wider channels. Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder was in sublime form down that right-hand touchline, while Perenara's support ensured the Hurricanes advanced deep into Brumbies territory.
On two occasions, Conrad Smith turned down the shot at goal. The Hurricanes had the Brumbies on the ropes, and would land a big blow when Julian Savea received the ball on the left wing. The All Black No 11 dropped his hip, bumped off Nic White, and scored the Hurricanes' first try.
Milner-Skudder was the catalyst for the second try, and once again it was the support play of Perenara that caused the Brumbies' defence problems. Suddenly the Hurricanes were 12-0 ahead, and the Brumbies had a mountain to climb.
One Jesse Mogg penalty was all the Brumbies contributed to a first half that ended 12-3 in the Hurricanes' favour. The hosts scored right after the break via a lineout maul, Ardie Savea eventually getting the touchdown. The Brumbies were outplayed at the breakdown in this clash, and also failed to get their impressive lineout working.
When Ardie Savea left the field with an injury, the Brumbies came back into the contest at the rucks. Two more penalties by Chrsitian Lealiifano reduced the deficit to 10 points.
But that was as close as the visitors would get. The Hurricanes kept on coming, and it wasn't long before they had their fourth try via reserve back Matt Proctor.
The Hurricanes will be thrilled with a 20-point win, but that margin of victory may have been greater had they finished better in the first half. Between Barrett and fullback James Marshall, the Hurricanes missed three shots on goal. They are going to be tough to stop in the final at the Cake Tin next week.
Hurricanes – Tries: Julian Savea, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Matt Proctor. Conversions: Beauden Barrett, James Marshall (2). Penalty: Marshall.
Brumbies – Penalties: Jesse Mogg, Christian Lealiifano (2).
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Lausii Taliauli, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 Robbie Coleman.
Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images