Hurricanes' defence key to win over NSW
The Hurricanes mastered familiar weather conditions to enhance their status as Super Rugby's most prolific point scorers but keeping an opponent try-less for the first time this season was just as satisfying as they heaped more misery on the NSW Waratahs last night.
Chris Eaton's last-minute bonus-point yielding try might have been the perfect ending to the Hurricanes' 33-12 victory - their first in Sydney since 2006 - but successfully defending their line when the Waratahs had ample opportunity to cross after halftime was another critical factor as they kept their title hopes alive.
The Hurricanes spent most of the penultimate quarter hemmed deep in their won territory with a tenuous lead, but held firm, admittedly with considerable assistance from a butter-fingered opponent, and then gave the woeful Waratahs a reminder of what can be achieved with ball in hand with three clinical tries in the final 17 minutes.
Maximum points enabled the Hurricanes to jump from ninth to seventh and then, as their celebrations were presumably continuing, the cellar-dwelling Lions gave them another boost by upsetting the Sharks in Johannesburg.
The Lions' 38-28 triumph allowed the Hurricanes to climb up to sixth on points differential with daunting assignments against the Crusaders and Chiefs either side of the bye when the regular season resumes after the international window.
A damp Allianz Stadium and a committed, though inept, host prevented a repeat of last weekend's dismantling of the Melbourne Rebels but the Hurricanes still showcased their offensive capabilities when snaffling a turnover in the 62nd minute.
After surging 80-metres downfield, Andre Taylor flung a miracle ball as he tumbled into touch, Beauden Barrett made the pick-up look easy and found Victor Vito who slipped a pass to rampaging replacement hooker Motu Matu'u.
It was the damaging defender's first Super Rugby try and made the game safe at 21-12 before Conrad Smith exploited an overlap and reserve halfback Eaton sniped over from a lineout set move.
Hurricanes head coach Mark Hammett was understandably satisfied with the performance but realised there are tougher challenges ahead in the New Zealand conference.
"The bonus point try was the icing on the cake and it's pleasing they didn't score a try," he said.
The Hurricanes led 13-9 at the break, courtesy of Barrett's radar boot and Julian Savea's poise in the left hand corner, but the round 15 contest was in the balance when Berrick Barnes knocked over his fourth - and final - penalty two minutes after the resumption.
But Sekope Kepu and John Ulugia committed critical handling errors, although the front rowers were not alone in frustrating a fan base that witnessed a record sixth consecutive defeat.
"We probably got out of jail there. They were really coming at us and we were lucky to get out without them scoring points," admitted Hammett.
Danger was averted once he utilised his bench - Matu'u was the prime example when he scored barely a minute after he replaced the industrious Dane Coles while Eaton and loose forward Brad Shields also added value.
The Hurricanes' eighth win of the campaign was also their fourth in five games, but Hammett acknowledged the benefit of back-to-back five-point hauls against two weak Australian teams would only be apparent if they advanced to the finals series.
"We'll see what happens after the break, but it's certainly better to have it (10 points) than not have it."
While Hammett can still contemplate the play-offs, counterpart Michael Foley will be wondering if he will be entrusted with a second season in charge after presiding over the Waratahs' worst losing streak.
It is also the first time in the tournament's history that a traditional powerhouse of Australian rugby has lost 10 games - last night's 21-point defeat was also the heaviest of a dismal 2012.
"We definitely need to change a few things, there's no doubt," conceded Foley as the Waratahs rest up before a bye then derbies against the Brumbies and Reds.
Foley cringed as handling errors sabotaged promising lead-up work.
"We created opportunities for ourselves in their 22 but lack of ball control at critical times ....the possession and position we had in that second half, we should have done a lot better with it."