Blues topple Hurricanes in Wellington
Disaster for the Hurricanes was jubilation for the Blues whose 34-20 win in Wellington seemed justified after a controversial penalty try threatened to scupper a feel good story.
Two try hero Frank Halai was the central character in a match that fell short of the exciting New Zealand conference opener in Dunedin, but had plenty of talking points.
None more so than the penalty try awarded to the Hurricanes after television match official (TMO) Vicent Munro ruled Halai had deliberately batted the ball dead in the 55th minute.
The wing must have felt terrible as he trudged to the sin bin and the Hurricanes took a 20-16 lead, but he need not have worried.
The Hurricanes spent the night trying to implode and did so over the next 20 minutes with handling errors, missed tackles and loose passes frustrating their efforts.
This was the Blues' night from the moment Piri Weepu took the field ahead of the teams with his two daughters in his arms, one in Hurricanes colours, one in Blues.
It was Weepu who had the final say, banging over his fourth penalty on full time rendering his four misses irrelevant as coach John Kirwan celebrated in the coaching box.
Halai was smiling by then too after coming back on to score the match-sealing try with five minutes to go and after lock Jeremy Thrush's ill-advised pass had been intercepted by George Moala.
The Hurricanes were still in the match with a 20-19 lead with 20 minutes to play, but received a killer blow when Blues centre Rene Ranger danced through opposite Conrad Smith.
Ranger's try gave the Blues their third lead of the match and also put Smith out of the match, with the Hurricanes captain off clutching his face.
Everybody will be hoping it is not related to the detached retina he had fixed last year.
Smith will be livid at the handling errors, missed opportunities and aimless kicks that marked the Hurricanes first hit out of the season and so will the 10,662 who turned up to a match that took forever to get going.
Halai's sinbinning was the spark. He was rightly penalised but a penalty try seemed harsh.
It threatened to take the wind out of the visitor's sails, but second five eighth Frances Sail responded with a clean break and his teammates followed.
It was captain Ali Williams who threw the final pass to Halai and it was senior man Weepu and first five eighth Chris Noakes who kept the ship steady.
The Blues had struggled in the first half and trailed 13-11, but started the second with a 10 minute assault on the goal line, turning down a shot at goal and then hammering away until fullback Charles Piutau found himself unmarked out wide.
Earlier, Halai had scored the opener for the Blues and opposite Julian Savea for the Hurricanes.
Creating width was clearly the plan for the Hurricanes who did a nice job of stretching the Blues defence, but would have been frustrated at a yield of just one try before the break.
The Blues much talked about fitness paid dividends as they covered up holes and soaked up pressure behind a big territorial disadvantage.
But the home side had their chances, line breaks from Smith, Alapati Leiua and TJ Perenara all ending with frustrating turnovers as the Blues hung on.
They had hope in the form of the opening try to Halai, which was created by his wing partner Moala who ran over the top of Smith before off loading to create the space on 20 minutes.
It was a short-lived lead with the Hurricanes converting a Thrush lineout take before swift hands from Victor Vito and Andre Taylor allowed Savea to finish in the corner.
Barrett's sideline conversion put the Hurricanes up 13-8 before Weepu closed out the half with a long range penalty.
The Blues host the Crusaders next week, while the Hurricanes head to Brisbane to play the Reds.
Hurricanes 20 (Julian Savea, Penalty try, Beauden Barrett 2 pen, 2 cons) vs Blues 34 (Frank Halai 2, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger tries, Piri Weepu 4 pens, con). HT: 13-11 Hurricanes
The Dominion Post