Hurricanes hold Bulls at Bay for second scalp
Two weeks, two big scalps, the Hurricanes took a major step toward resurrecting their Super Rugby season with a nail biting 25-20 win over the Bulls in Napier.
First five eighth Beauden Barrett stepped up to the mark with seven minutes to play and nailed a late penalty to retake the lead and added an exclamation mark with his sixth penalty on full time.
The first kick was symbolic. There was nothing easy about it, 40 metres on the angle. The Hurricanes had just seemingly lost grip of the match a few minutes earlier when they blunted the Bulls lineout, but then allowed replacement pivot Handre Pollard to slip through for a soft converted try.
Grit, patience and a collective cool was in order. Not the Hurricanes forte, perhaps until now.
At 20-19 behind, they gained a scrum penalty, snatched back the lead, then shut the match down in the opposition's half.
Coach Mark Hammett praised his side's character after knocking over the Crusaders and Bulls in consecutive weeks to go into the bye round with renewed self-belief.
"That's massive," he said. "I've said all along this team is capable of beating every team every week, but we know in this competition its highly intense and that's not always going to happen."
Though there was still too much ball lost in contact, Hammett said the most pleasing thing was his side were no longer beating themselves.
"If you look at the [losses to the] Highlanders and the Brumbies, not taking anything away from them, but we beat ourselves up a bit more than perhaps what the opposition did."
That was never the case against the Bulls where the Hurricanes pack were on top of their game, physical from the start and smart at the breakdown.
Six weeks after struggling in South Africa tighthead Jeffery Toomaga-Alllen was part of a scrum that dominated the Bulls even after Ben Franks limped off with a pulled groin.
If players like Toomaga-Allen and lock James Broadhurst are on an upward curve, so are the Hurricanes who find themselves equal on points with their next opponent the Blues.
Openside Jack Lam again led the assault on the breakdown, while No 8 Victor Vito made a seamless return to action.
Hammett was particularly pleased with his team's defensive effort despite conceding two soft tries.
"They are big big men, so they will make inches, half metres. but we felt if we could take their legs out we could isolate them and get turnovers."
In the backs, Barrett added the composure to finish with 20 points, new second five eighth Alapati Leiua had some handling issues, but ran strongly, while fullback Andre Taylor was all confidence at fullback.
It was the first time the Hurricanes had beaten the Bulls since 2008 and they had lost the past four matches between the sides.
Hammett's blood pressure took another hammering.
The Hurricanes looked to have blown their chance when halfback TJ Perenara and fullback Taylor combined on the counter attack with 15 minutes to play. Replacement prop Reggie Goodes went within inches of scoring and Barrett took the penalty and a 19-16 lead.
But you wondered if a try might have been worth pursuing. The Bulls thought so and when they went to a lineout a minute later the reward was a converted try to replacement first five-eighth Pollard and a one point lead with 12 minutes to play.
The Bulls, playing in green, put in an admirable performance and almost stole a match they'd hardly been in during the opening 40 minutes.
It wasn't perfect in front of 9,500 Napier locals.
The home side made a bold start, completely dominating territory and possession. Lam earned a penalty and an early 3-0 lead, Franks put a huge hit on hooker Callie Visagie and Jacques du Plessis was driven into his own in-goal.
The pressure told with Cory Jane producing a brilliant piece of skill to catch a Barrett cross kick and, in mid-air, pop the pass inside to Taylor for the opening try an a handy 10-0 lead.
Barrett kept the scoreboard ticking with two more penalties to extend to 16-6, but too many promising attacks ended limply with grubber kicks, seemingly the trendy thing to do in New Zealand rugby right now, and the Bulls found a way back into the contest.
The visitor's break came against the run of play when Broadhurst spilled an innocuous up and under, Potgieter grabbing the rebound and turning the ball inside to Visser to make it 16-13 at halftime.
Hurricanes 25 (Andre Taylor try, Beauden Barrett 6 pen, con) Bulls 20 (Jurgen Visser, Handre Pollard try, Jacques Louis-Potgieter 3 pen, Pollard con). HT: 16-13
Sunday Star Times