Lightning struck twice for the Hurricanes tonight as they crashed to a damaging 37-25 loss to the Brumbies in Wellington.
After making some key selection changes in the name of rest and rotation coach Mark Hammett must have been kicking himself as his rejigged side fumbled a 25-16 second half lead and probably their Super Rugby playoff hopes.
With Samoan international Tusi Pisi at first five-eighth and Beauden Barrett coming off the bench and blindside Faifili Levave on rest duties it was a bitter pill after a similarly frustrating saga unfolded earlier in the season against the lowly Cheetahs.
This time it was a Brumbies side that took the loss of their own first five-eighth Christian Lealiifano in their stride and took a big step toward winning the Australian conference title.
New No 10 Zack Holmes took his chance with both hands scoring a decisive second half bonus point try and adding 17 points with his boot in wet conditions.
Hammett played down the changes, but the physicality of Levave and the steadying tactical boot of Barrett were clearly missed.
"Potentially I should have made more changes because looking at it we were quite sluggish," Hammett said. "That's something I'll look back at, but you don't like to make too many in a week.
"I don't necessarily think that was the reason. We planned well, we trained well, we had the game, quite clearly there were plenty of opportunities out there.
"I have a horrible feeling we lost it rather than they won it."
That's hard to argue with and Brumbies coach Jake White agreed his side had won without playing well.
What they did do was play smart though for their first win in Wellington since 2003 on the back of an outstanding display from openside Michael Hooper.
The Hurricanes sixth loss puts them in must-win territory for the remainder of a season that still includes tough matches against the Chiefs and Crusaders.
At least there as a four-try bonus point including two tries to halfback TJ Perenara whose season seems to know no bounds and another steady display from wing Julian Savea.
But it's unlikely to have impressed the 9400 in the stands who sat through a fourth loss from five on their home pitch and will be tough to coax back for the Rebels next Saturday.
What's hardest to stomach is that the Hurricanes again lacked a killer instinct, leading with half an hour to play when replacement prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen crashed over from a lineout drive.
Instead of putting their foot on the throat the Hurricanes froze as a faulty defensive line that's been their Achilles heel all season, reared its head again.
Hammett was left scratching his head. Was it playing too much rugby?
Was it not plugging the corners?
Really, the answer is more simple with poor ball security and missed tackles at the heart of the matter.
It started when Brumbies lock Sam Carter loped past a spectating Tim Bateman to start the rot. Hooper then dived over when the ball squirted from a Hurricanes scrum on their goal line and Holmes sealed their misery when he zipped past Pisi to make it 32-25. Thirteen minutes, three tries and those ever-present missed tackles and the Hurricanes season may have gone up in smoke.
To rub salt in the wound wing Cory Jane hobbled off in the first half with an ankle injury after 25 minutes.
Brumbies 37 (Fotu Auelua, Sam Carter, Zack Holmes, Michael Hooper tries Holmes 4 cons 3 pens) Hurricanes 25 (TJ Perenara 2, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Victor Vito tries Andre Taylor con pen) at Westpac Stadium. Referee: Mark Lawrence
- The Dominion Post
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