Hurricanes emphatic in Cheetahs thrashing
Finally the Hurricanes have something to celebrate.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett breathed a sigh of relief tonight as his side snapped an eight-match losing run to celebrate captain Conrad Smith's 100th match with a 60-27 win over the Cheetahs.
After dropping their opening three matches of the Super Rugby season, the Hurricanes' attack finally clicked as they ran in nine tries, two to first five-eighth Beauden Barrett who finished with a personal tally of 23 points.
The bonus point win will ease some of the pressure on Hammett, whose job has come under intense scrutiny following losses to the Sharks, Stormers and Brumbies.
But it will not silence his critics who will point to the fact the Hurricanes porous defence remains an on-going issue, another three tries and 27 points conceded.
They will also point to the fact it was only the Cheetahs, a side that attacks with gusto, but does not apply the same energy to its tackling.
But tonight Hammett won't give a damn. The win provides a starting point for a season that was in desperate need of some self belief.
The key to unlocking the attack was that for the first time this season the Hurricanes held onto the ball, stopped kicking possession away, and got quick ruck ball.
In that Hammett can claim a victory in his selection of halfback Chris Smylie, whose crisp passing and running were features of a vastly improved performance that allowed Barrett to run with a confidence that spread through the team.
Another morsel for the Hurricanes to saviour was that the crowd improved ever so slightly to 8165 as fans turned up to honour Smith's milestone.
The centre didn't disappoint delivering a typically accurate and skillful effort including some text-book draw and pass play, several well-timed defensive stops and the most popular try of the match to bring up the home side's half century with 13 minutes to play.
Lock Jeremy Thrush and blindside Faifili Levave were the pick of the pack while Ardie Savea added plenty of energy from openside and his brother Julian from the wing.
Defensive frailties threatened to spoil the party during the first half, but at least the Hurricanes were playing some rugby.
There was intent with ball in hand and it paid off early when quick hands from wing Alapati Leiua and Julian Savea put hooker Dane Coles over for the first try of the match.
The Hurricanes would have their bonus point try by halftime with Barrett, Smylie and fullback James Marshall keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Second five eighth remained the biggest hole in the Hurricanes defence with Hadleigh Parkes struggling to keep up at times. He got himself in no-mans' land as Cheetahs centre Francois Venter ghosted through to put fullback Willie le Roux over on 10 minutes as both sides spread the ball at every opportunity.
Barrett produced a moment of brilliance to grubber in behind, regather, then step le Roux to score a 50 metre solo try to regain the lead at 14-13 then stretched it further with a penalty on 25 minutes.
But missed tackles continued to plague the Hurricanes and when Smith made a rare slip No 8 Philip van der Walt skipped away from Ardie Savea, then embarrassed Marshall to run in under the posts as the visitors edged ahead again.
Smylie was next to score after a neat inside flick from Leiua as the lead changed for the fourth time and though the mistakes kept coming, the Hurricanes didn't go into their shell as they have in previous seasons.
Julian Savea busted up the middle before Smith produced some magical handling to create space, first for Leiua, then Marshall who scooted over in the corner for a 29-20 halftime lead.
With le Roux sinbinned somewhat harshly for a deliberate knock down after the break, the Hurricanes didn't miss their cue to break free.
Barrett fended through under the posts for his brace after Leiua had found space out wide, then Thrush crashed over to stretch the lead to 43-20 with half an hour to play.
Francois Uys grabbed one back for the visitors, but Hammett's men were starting to enjoy their new found freedom.
Replacement wing Matt Proctor crossed after some quick hands, Smith brought up the 50, then Leiua grabbed a turnover on halfway to complete the rout with a 50 metre sprint to the line.
Hurricanes: 60 (Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett 2, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Jeremy Thrush, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith, Alapati Leiua tries, Barrett 5 cons, pen, Marty Banks con)
Cheetahs: 27 (Willie le Roux, Philip van der Walt, Francois Uys tries, Johan Goosen 3 con, 2 pens).