Hurricanes hammer Blues to firm playoff hopes
The X-factor continues to be the Hurricanes' trump card after they eased back into the Super Rugby playoff contention with a 35-19 win over the still-directionless Blues.
The bonus-point win was built on the compelling energy of halfback TJ Perenara and the brilliance of a back three that simply can't be stopped.
Tries to Conrad Smith, Andre Taylor, Julian Savea, Perenara and lock Jason Eaton came largely from moments of individual skill rather than concerted pressure, though by the end coach Mark Hammett would have been pleased his side held a clear upper hand.
Encouraging too was the way first five-eighth Beauden Barrett grew into the match, reclaiming the confidence that seemed to have ebbed in recent weeks, if not his kicking boots.
That said, Hammett will still be looking for a more concerted effort against the Highlanders next week in Dunedin, particularly in defence with too many lapses during a messy first half.
The win moves the Hurricanes into seventh spot for now, just a few points off the top six.
During their fifth win of the season their tactics were spot on. They were battling at scrum time, but far too good out wide for a Blues team that cannot dip any further in confidence.
Second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu did his best to rev up the visitors with some big hits out wide, but other than some solid scrum work from Charlie Faumuina the spark faded the longer the match wore on.
Local favourite Piri Weepu had a quiet match and was subbed with 20 minutes to play, contrasted by Perenara, who was a menace around the ruck.
Hammett's tactical instructions were obvious from the kickoff with the Hurricanes quick to go wide to the threats of Taylor and Savea and to kick in behind the Blues backs.
Nonu did his best, dealing out big hits on Oriental-Rongotai club team-mate Savea and Barrett, apologising graciously for the second after failing to use his arms.
But he couldn't stop the Hurricanes' counter-attack, or their attacking kicking game.
It brought early success when wing George Moala spilt a Barrett cross kick and Hurricanes captain Smith was on the spot to grab the try.
The Blues were contrastingly going up the middle, probing the blind and kicking anything they got within their half.
They were also looking for Barrett, and Lowery was unlucky to be held up after the Hurricanes' on-going scrum defence was found wanting on 13 minutes.
The Hurricanes were making too many mistakes and missing too many tackles to impose any sort of real pressure, but their counter-attacking brilliance remained in tact.
When a Blues pass was knocked down, TJ Perenara performed a border-line miracle to gather up the scraps and release Cory Jane, who expertly ran Taylor in for his eighth try of the season.
Barrett added a penalty for a 16-12 halftime lead.
It brightened up an ordinary match with both sides guilty of too many errors for this level of rugby.
The second half was a better display as Barrett grew in confidence.
Savea was denied rightly by the TMO for a foot in touch after 53 minutes, but not minutes later as Barrett's offload and some quick Smith hands made it 28-12.
Replacement prop Reggie Goodes' try was disallowed, but Perenara capped a strong match with a nicely worked scrum move and lock Eaton sealed the win with a try near fulltime.
Rene Ranger laid on a second-half try to Benson Stanley, but mostly the Blues' movements broke down in similar fashion to a season that now stands at one win from 10 matches.
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The Dominion Post