Canes circle calendar after win over Lions
Friday, May 16 - it's less than two weeks away and the place to be is Eden Park.
There might have been some pretty average rugby in this year's Super 14 but the competition is heading for a thrilling finish and part of the drama will play out that night at Eden Park.
Sure the Super 14 still looks like the Crusaders' to lose, but the Hurricanes and Blues are on a collision course as the Super 14 turns into a knock-out competition in the run to the playoffs.
The Hurricanes kept their season alive, and moved closer to a fourth semifinals appearance under coach Colin Cooper, with their 38-12 win against the hapless Lions in front of 13,986 fans in Wellington on Saturday night.
There were times when the Hurricanes played like a team that knew it was going to win comfortably, and they benefited from playing a side that has been on the road for five weeks and has all but surrendered.
The Hurricanes' defence was also poor on occasion which will have the Blues, in particular, licking their lips.
But it was still a good night for the Hurricanes who scored five tries and did what needed to be done against the bottom team in the competition.
The Hurricanes have another exciting wing on their hands in Zac Guildford and a nifty first five-eighth in Willie Ripia, who has moved from Waikato to Taranaki.
They combined for the first try when Guildford ran on to a Ripia kick and played big hands in the third try, scored by Ma'a Nonu.
Guildford got the Hurricanes cranking, then Ripia chipped and regathered beautifully, found Chris Masoe in support who had Nonu rampaging off his shoulder.
The Hurricanes' Mr Everywhere, hooker Andrew Hore, also picked up his fourth try for the year when he crunched Lions No8 Joe van Niekerk on his try line, ripped the ball off him and somehow got it down.
The Hurricanes went inside for the halftime hot chocolate – that's how cold it was – leading 26-7 and with the match effectively over.
All that remained was picking up the bonus.
The Lions started better in the second half, with wing Jannie Boshof adding to hooker Willie Wepener's first half try with a slick one of his own.
The Hurricanes should have had the bonus point in the 54th minute when fullback Corey Jane had one to beat but threw a shocking pass vaguely in Shannon Paku's direction.
Nonu made amends when he bulldozed his way over in the 64th minute.
The best celebrated try went to flanker Scott Waldrom who ran off his charging brother, Thomas, into a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon then put in an Olympic standard dive through the posts.
The Hurricanes play the Force in Wellington next Friday but will probably still have to beat the Blues at Eden Park in a fortnight to ensure their place in the playoffs.
That assignment got a fair bit tougher after the result from Suncorp Stadium on Friday.
The Blues' 35-22 win against the Reds in Brisbane was a bit of a mixed bag, but it delivered the five points the Aucklanders so desperately needed to stay in the hunt.
They should secure five more against the Highlanders next weekend, especially as the Otago lads have to return from South Africa, which will leave the Blues tantalisingly close to the playoffs.
They could still miss even if they beat the Hurricanes in the final round – but it shapes as a doozey of a match.
The Hurricanes used to be the Blues' bunny with eight consecutive defeats but that changed when they drew in 2004 and again when they secured their first win in Tana Umaga's 100th Super match in 2005.
That win was the first of three-in-a-row the Hurricanes have had over the Blues – but given the form of each side this year anything is possible in two weeks time.
It looms as a cracking end to the round robin and who knows, a decent sized crowd might even turn up at Eden Park to watch.
Hurricanes: 38 (Ma'a Nonu 2, Zac Guildford, Andrew Hore, Scott Waldrom try; Willie Ripia 3 pens, con; Jimmy Gopperth con).
Lions: 12 (Willie Wepener, Jannie Boshof try; Earl Rose con).
The Dominion Post