The Blues got the weekend off to a perfect start for South African Vodacom Super 14 hopes when they scored a hard-fought 19-17 win over the Hurricanes in their final league match in Auckland on Friday morning.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that by limiting the Hurricanes to just one bonus point, it effectively means that if both the Stormers and the Sharks pick up bonus-point wins in their final matches of the league season on Saturday, then South Africa will have two teams in the playoffs for a second successive year.
And if the Reds do what the Blues did by scoring an upset win when they face the Waratahs in another derby match on Saturday, we could even have one of the South African teams playing at home when the semifinals arrive next weekend. Had the Hurricanes won, they would have virtually assured themselves of second position and home ground advantage next week, and would have effectively ended any hope of a semifinal on South African soil.
Now there is everything to play for as the Stormers face the Lions in Johannesburg and the Sharks host the Chiefs on what promises to be a pulsating, exciting and tense conclusion to this phase of the Super 14 season.
It didn’t look like turning out that way when two Hoseah Gear tries within 53 seconds of each gave the Hurricanes a handy 14-3 lead midway through the first half. The Blues, who were first on the board through a Nick Evans penalty, had enjoyed a massive territorial advantage until that point and were also winning the battle for possession.
But then came a great run from Hurricanes centre Ma’a Nonu, and suddenly the Hurricanes, always so dangerous from broken play, had their tails up. When a poor clearance from Evans put the Hurricanes in possession in an attacking position, it was Gear who ran across the Blues defence before straightening and going right through the middle to score what the Blues would have considered a soft try.
The Blues were stung by that score, perhaps explaining why Evans then botched the restart, giving the Hurricanes a scrum in the centre of the field. From there they kicked the ball down just into the Blues 22, and Evans, up against the touchline, made his third mistake in the space of as many minutes as he kicked the ball straight into the advancing Gear.
The Hurricanes wing just had to pouch the bouncing ball to make sure, and suddenly the Hurricanes were 11 points clear and looking well set for the semifinals. The Blues’ riposte was immediate, however, and they provided prospective stars of the future an object lesson on how to keep composed and patient in times of strife as they drove the ball upfield.
Eventually the crack in the Hurricanes defence had to come, and when it did it resulted in impressive lock Anthony Boric driving over for the try in the left corner to cut the deficit to four points with Evans’s well-taken conversion.
The Blues appeared to have lost control again just beyond the half hour mark, the referee yellow carding No 8 Nick Williams for repeated but minor infringements at the tackle ball. The Hurricanes also profited with a penalty from Piri Weepu to make it 17-10.
However, the Blues were in a determined mood, and scored six points through two further Evans penalties while Williams was off the field. The battle was also evened up numerically when Hurricanes fullback Tamati Ellison was yellow carded, perhaps wrongly because he was not the man who was impeding the Blues’ attempt to chase down a kick ahead.
The Blues had several scoring opportunities early in the second half and were over the line on two occasions only for the TMO to rule against them. In the second instance it was a really 50/50 call as Jerome Kaino was adjudged to have put part of his body on the touch in goal as he dotted the ball down.
The Hurricanes survived the onslaught, but Evans enjoyed a great night with his place-kicking boot, and when the Hurricanes were pinned for a high tackle he made no mistake as he put the Blues back into the lead with 20 minutes to go.
The Canes threw everything into the attack in the last quarter, but the Blues’ defence was outstanding. Three times in the last five minutes the Canes tries to drop for goal and missed, and still it was not over as they then launched a protracted multi-phase assault after the siren. But the Blues’ defence stood firm as back home the watching South Africans gnawed furiously on their nails.
Blues 19 – Try: Anthony Boric; Conversion: Nick Evans; Penalties: Nick Evans 4.
Hurricanes 17 – Tries: Hoseah Gear 2; Conversions: Piri Weepu 2; Penalty: Piri Weepu.Tweet