The Hurricanes withstood a second-half surge by the Stormers to win 25-20 in Wellington on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Hurricanes were at their counter-attacking best in the first half. The Stormers were outstanding in the second. Sadly, the only constant in this match was the poor standard of officiating. Rohan Hoffmann had a shocker with the whistle, and it was the Stormers who often found themselves on the wrong side of the referee's bad decisions.
That's not to say the Hurricanes didn't deserve to lead by a comfortable margin at half-time. In those first 40 minutes, they were dominant in every area but the scrum.
They punished a Stormers defence that was once again too passive, and created a series of counter-attacking chances through their superior performance at the breakdown. And after making the initial break, their backs were good enough to find their way to the tryline.
However, all three of the Hurricanes's tries were scored in controversial circumstances. Hoffmann apologised for missing a knock-on in the lead-up to Nehe Milner-Skudder's score, but then allowed a second try despite what appeared to be a clear forward pass to Julian Savea.
Right before the break, the Hurricanes appeared to be offside in their own 22, but this transgression was missed by the officials. The hosts counter-attacked smartly, and the slick interaction between forwards and backs culminated in a breathtaking try for Beauden Barrett. The Hurricanes went to the break with a 25-3 lead.
The hosts certainly deserved reward for their first-half dominance. That being said, the Stormers deserved a better refereeing performance. If there had been more accuracy and consistency, then they may have gone on to win this clash.
Credit to the Cape side, for they showed some ticker in the second stanza. Their scrum continued to smash that of the Hurricanes, and the visitors were awarded a penalty try right after the break.
They continued to fight on, despite another series of officiating gaffes. Huw Jones was denied a try after the TMO ruled he had played the ball from an offside position. Another incident saw the Stormers forwards controlling the ball from the lineout and rumbling ominously towards the Hurricanes tryline. Hoffmann penalised the visitors for 'changing lanes', and the call was met by a filthy look from Schalk Burger. That look told you everything you needed to know about the decision. It made no sense.
But the Stormers refused to give up. The Hurricanes' complacent attitude at the tackle continued to cost them possession, as did a string of handling and kicking errors. Barrett missed touch from inside his own 22, and the Cape side made the hosts pay. Duane Vermeulen ran hard at the tryline, was tackled by two defenders, and still managed to get an offload away. The pass found Jones, who scored in the right-hand corner.
Some cool goal-kicking brought the Stormers within sight of an unlikely win. Demetri Catrakilis converted Jones's try with an outstanding kick from the touchline. Replacement flyhalf Kurt Coleman then sank a penalty in the 74th minute to reduce the deficit to just five points.
Ultimately, the Hurricanes would do just enough to hang on for the win. They were outscored 17-0 in the second stanza, and had a great deal of luck with regards to the officiating. Nevertheless, the result marks their seventh win on the trot, and they remain at the top of the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log.
The Stormers deserve praise for their second-half showing, and will know they weren't helped by some abysmal refereeing. But they too must be honest with themselves, as they were poor in the first half. If they fail to produce a consistent showing against the Waratahs next week, they will come short once again.
Hurricanes – Tries: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett (2).
Stormers – Tries: Penalty try, Huw Jones. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (2). Penalties: Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ben May, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Johnny Kotze.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images