Julian Savea dispelled any conjecture about his likely All Blacks' debut with a treble as the Hurricanes revived their playoff hopes with a rampant win over the dreadful Melbourne Rebels in Wellington last night.
If Steve Hansen hadn't already pencilled Savea's name on the wing for the first test against Ireland at Eden Park, the All Blacks coach will be reaching for the permanent marker after his three-try effort.
The explosive Savea is in line for a national debut after injuries to team-mate Cory Jane and Chiefs utility Richard Kahui. Last night, he sent a message that he is more than ready for his first test cap by finishing two grubbers and another movement with pure pace.
The fresh-faced Hurricanes involved in this week's All Blacks camp had a strut in their step. Beauden Barrett celebrated his reinstatement at first five-eighths and today's 21st birthday with another sharp, decisive display. The impressive playmaker turned on a flawless 10-from-10 kicking performance to take Jon Preston's season point-scoring record.
Inside Barrett, TJ Perenara continued to ignore whispers of Piri Weepu's return and showed why he should have been included as one of four halfbacks in the All Blacks' training squad.
Perenara's vision and abrasive defence would not look out of place in a black jersey. The skilful No9 instigated a series of superb passes by combining with Tim Bateman and Andre Taylor, who claimed a double to take his season tally to 10. The fullback made another compelling case as he vies with Highlanders' wing Hosea Gear to replace Jane. The Canes' back three led the helter-skelter onslaught, contributing seven stunning tries in all, with Alapati Leiua also grabbing a brace in what was a throwback to the days when Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga and Jonah Lomu wore the black-and-yellow jersey with distinction.
There were also strong, brutal efforts from their loose forward trio – Faifili Levave marking his return to the blindside flank with dominance – and replacement hooker Motu Matu'u laid on two thundering second-half hits that are certain to make "smashed him bro".
Coach Mark Hammett's side secured their four-try bonus point after just 30min and had the game in the bag early, leading 38-17 at halftime.
The Rebels were seemingly adverse to doing anything that remotely resembled tackling. Maybe they thought this was ripper rugby?
Their attempted defence was woeful and belied some of their shock results this year.
After consecutive wins over the Crusaders and Force, the Rebels gave the initial impression they came to fight, with former Warrior Cooper Vuna's brute force busting through five would-be Hurricanes tacklers for the first of his double.
But, from that strike, the floodgates burst open. And they didn't close.
It's difficult to assess the Hurricanes' top-six aspirations given their hapless opposition. But after blowing significant leads against the Cheetahs, and Brumbies last week, Hammett will be pleased his side were able to harness the killer instinct.
The nine-tries-to-three victory will be a major boost with the Waratahs (Sydney), Crusaders (Christchurch) and Chiefs (Wellington) still to play. If the lethal Canes can replicate this attacking prowess they have to be given a shot at beating anyone.
Hurricanes 66 (Julian Savea 3, Alapati Leiua 2, Andre Taylor 2, Jack Lam, Chris Eaton tries, Beauden Barrett 9 con, pen)
Rebels 24 (Cooper Vuna 2, Adam Freier tries, Kurtley Beale 2 cons, pen, Richard Kingi con).
HT: 38-17 - Hurricanes
- Fairfax Media
Where should Super Rugby's 18th franchise be based?Related story: (See story)