Hurricanes get the job done against Force
It was a case of negotiating a tricky hurdle for the Hurricanes, but not a lot more as they banked four competition points with a 22-16 win over the Force in Wellington.
A reshuffled Hurricanes side lacked fluidity in attack and, for the second week in a row, kicked away too much early possession, but still managed to score three tries and add a fifth win to their Super Rugby season.
But it spoke volumes that coach Mark Hammett's first reaction after the match were relief and frustration after the Force threatened to steal the match.
"We struggled to get out of our exit zones which has been a strength of ours and around the breakdown they got their hands on the ball a heck of a lot and we were penalized out of the game," Hammett said. "Whether the calls were correct or not, I'm not sure, but just looking quickly there were three that were incorrect toward the end. It felt a little harsh."
Referee Nick Briant may have got a couple of calls wrong in the second half, but the Hurricanes problem was they didn't get things right in the first 40 minutes.
In front of just 7783 fans there was a predictability about proceedings as the Force battled gamely, but simply didn't have the attacking weapons to score points.
And frustratingly, there was a familiar look to the Hurricanes too as first five eighth Tusi Pisi produced an array of kicks from his own half meaning outsides like wing Julian Savea did not get into the match.
The Hurricanes struggled to build phases and as a result their two tries came from a turnover and a counter attack rather than any structured attack.
Beauden Barrett made a good fist of fullback, sparking the counter attack that led to Pisi's try with a clever interplay with his wings, but needs to return to the No 10 jersey against the Stormers in Palmerston North on Friday.
On the upside Hammett had asked for greater intensity from his forwards and got that for the first half an hour, returning lock Jeremy Thrush leading the way on his 28th birthday and Brad Shields not far behind.
It was Thrush who tore the ball from opposite Toby Lynn's arms from a Force lineout to create the movement for the Hurricanes' first try to prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen after 20 minutes.
Shields scored after a brilliant break up the middle by wing Alapati Leiua for a 15-3 halftime lead and the result felt fairly safe by the time Pisi scored the home side's third try ten minutes after halftime to go out to 23-6.
But instead of finish the job, lock James Broadhurst was sin-binned and the visitor's got a sniff of the upset after clawing their way back into the match.
Force halfback Alby Mathewson was the pick of the Force backs and with 20 to play he exploited the same defensive loophole Piri Weepu had noticed a week prior.
It produced the try of the match when he shot off the back of a lineout to bamboozle the Hurricanes defence on a winding 25 metre run to the line and gave the Force hope.
Instead of finishing them off, the Hurricanes found themselves battling the referee at the breakdown and, in the end were forced to defend to the final whistle.
Hurricanes 22 (Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Brad Shields, Tusi Pisi tries, Beauden Barrett 2 cons, pen) Western Force 16 (Alby Mathewson try, Jayden Hayward 3 pens, con). HT: 15-3