The Hurricanes have survived a harrowing weekend to sneak into an all-New Zealand Super 14 semifinal date with the Crusaders next Saturday night in Christchurch.
Marc Hinton writes for RugbyHeaven that the Canes, who lost 17-19 to the Blues in Auckland on Friday night and then had to wait through an anxious weekend as the rest of the round played out, held on to fourth spot on points differential over the Stormers.
The Stormers, in the end, needed to score a bonus point victory over the Lions in Johannesburg to nudge ahead of the New Zealanders, but could only muster three tries in a 22-13 victory. That clinched a spot in the top four for the Canes who will meet the top-placed Crusaders next Saturday night at AMI Stadium(7.35pm kickoff).
The Sharks snatched third spot when they thrashed the Chiefs 47-25 in Durban, easily grabbing the bonus point win they needed to take them into the semifinals and past the Hurricanes on the standings.
That result earned the Sharks, runnersup last year, a visit to Sydney for a semifinal date against the NSW Waratahs also on Saturday night, probably a 9.40pm kickoff but still to be confirmed.
The Waratahs clinched second place on Saturday night when they ground out an 18-11 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane. It wasn’t pretty from the Sydneysiders, but it was effective as they grabbed the result they needed.
Just a few hours earlier the Crusaders had been shocked 26-14 by the Highlanders at home to conclude their round-robin on a low note. It was just the second defeat of the season for the Crusaders who had already clinched top spot before the round started
Waratahs skipper Phil Waugh admitted it hadn’t been exactly scintillating football in a typically grinding interstate affair against the Reds, but he was ecstatic about the final result.
“We got away with a win,” said Waugh after his side held on for a two tries to one victory. “We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty but we hung in there and it was a good win in the end.
“It’s great to be heading back to Sydney.”
The Blues ended up just a point out of the semifinal mix after they were unable to go anywhere near the bonus point in their tight affair against the Hurricanes at Eden Park.
The Hurricanes might fancy their chances of an upset in Christchurch, with the Crusaders continuing to struggle over the last month of the season.
The six-time champions, seeking to farewell super coach Robbie Deans with another title, were well beaten by the Highlanders at AMI Stadium as they produced an error-strewn effort against their fired up southern neighbours.
That came on top of unconvincing victories over the Queensland Reds, Sharks and Blues prior to that, following on from their first defeat of the season against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Hurricanes also enter the semifinals on the back of a loss, but they showed enough in a stirring contest against the Blues to suggest they’re capable of mounting a serious challenge in Christchurch.
The Waratahs will also be far from overwhelming favourites against the Sharks who have shown they can win on the road. The South Africans produced their best attacking display of the season in Durban to run in seven tries as they overwhelmed the Chiefs.
NSW Waratahs 43,
Hurricanes 41 (+106),
Stormers 41 (+58),
SF1: Crusaders (1) v Hurricanes (4), AMI Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday 7.35pm (09:35 SA time);
SF2 :NSW Waratahs (2) v Sharks (3), Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney, Saturday, kickoff time tbc.