Leiua magic lifts Hurricanes past Crusaders
Alapati Leiua delivered the miracle the Hurricanes had been praying for to cap an unbelievable 29-26 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch last night.
In the match of the Super Rugby season, it was Leiua who stepped up to the mark when all seemed lost to beat five defenders on a winding run to the try line.
It seemed a fitting play for a match that had everything from start to dramatic finish as the lead changed four times.
It was supposed to be Crusaders captain Kieran Read's big night on his 100th match, but Leiua and the Hurricanes had other ideas.
The rugby gods seemed to have conspired agianst the Hurricaanes and their embattled coach Mark Hammett when first five-eighth Beauden Barrett missed a simple penalty with eight minutes to play.
Instead they delivered a try from nowhere, Leiua drifting outside marker Johnny McNicholl then stepping and fending his way to the try line and the second win of a season that had seemed doomed to a fifth loss.
The Hurricanes deserved this win. They left nothing behind from the start and chanced their arm from the kick off.
Uncertainty was replaced by passion and even when a spirited first half ended with a Tom Taylor penalty and a 18-17 Crusaders lead, they kept up the pressure.
Wing Julian Savea produced some magic after halftime to regain the lead 24-18 when Nafi Tuitavake got caught ball watching as the match see sawed wildly.
Colin Slade grabbed back the lead with 22 minutes to play and when Taylor kicked another penalty it looked as though all was lost for the visitor's by the time Barrett missed his shot at glory.
Not this night. This was about the Hurricanes and their will not to lose.
Ball in hand was clearly the visitor's mantra and wings Savea and Leiua were in their element as they charged at the defence.
Barrett kicked an early penalty, but the Hurricanes hadn't come to win in multiples of three. Twice they turrned down shots at goal and when Barrett shaped to kick for territory, but instead chanced his arm from half way the gamblers got their reward.
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen burst up field from the next ruck, before Savea skittled Read and off loaded to Levave for the first try of the match and a 10-0 lead.
Toomaga-Allen left with concussion, but the onslaught continued. Another shot turned down, some leg drive from Levave and TJ Perenara used his strength to stretch over.
After 20 minutes the Crusaders found themselves in a reasonable sized hole at 17-3 behind on the board, but as is their way, key men stepped up to the mark.
Wyatt Crockett made the crunching tackle that turned the tide. Andy Ellis, after a miserable first half hour, took off from the quick tap and Ryan Crotty cleverly kicked ahead for McNicholls to close the gap.
Read's 100th match lasted just 25 minutes before he took a seat with an ankle injury, but the Crusaders had absorbed most the Hurricanes opening fury.
Slade dived on a loose pass outside the Hurricanes 22 and the scrambling defence couldn't stop McNicholls grabbing his second to close to 17-15.
When Taylor banged over a penalty on halftime after a scrum penalty, the Hurricanes would have wondered how they could possibly be behind on the board.
Hurricanes 29 (Faifili Levave, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Alapati Leiua tries, Beauden Barrett 3 cons, pen) Crusaders 26 (Johnny McNicholl 2, Colin Slade tries, Tom Taylor 3 pens, con). HT: 17-18
The Dominion Post