For two teams with plenty of annual hype it was the Waratahs who delivered most on their early expectations, blitzing a sloppy Hurricanes side early and then hanging on for victory in Wellington.
Last year’s finalists scooted out to a commanding early lead with three tries in the opening half hour and despite battling the statistics managed to score another late in the match to add a bonus point to their evening’s work and a 26-22 win.
Duncan Johnstone writes for RugbyHeaven that the buzz coming out of Sydney over the past few weeks has been about the speed of the Waratahs game being employed by new coach Chris Hickey and they showed exactly that – when they got their hands on the ball.
Exciting young centre Rob Horne was frequently involved, wing Lote Tuqiri was menacing and halfback Luke Burgess and flanker Phil Waugh – eventually a victim of some loose Hurricanes boot work – were at the heart of everything.
But this wasn’t all about razzle dazzle – the Tahs were also adapt at knuckling down to some hard graft, clever spoiling tactics and plenty of solid defensive work.
It led to a frustrating night for Colin Cooper’s New Zealanders who simply couldn’t impact themselves on this match until the final quarter when desperation took over and they responded with a couple of good tries.
But even stars like Ma’a Nonu were strangely ineffective.
For a side stacked with Grand Slam All Blacks this simply wasn’t good enough from the Hurricanes who made the top four again last year.
They dominated territory and possession but struggled to find rhythm and their attacks were frequently plagued by the sort of handling errors so common at this time of the season.
When they did swing the ball about they were often guilty of being shuffled sideways by some clever slide defence from the visitors out wide.
They were also plagued by some aimless kicking, particularly in the first half, which rarely put the Tahs under pressure.
Young first five Dan Kirkpatrick did a reasonable job under difficult circumstances but on a quiet night from the Hurricanes backs fullback Cory Jane and wing Hosea Gear were the most dangerous.
Cooper started using his bench just 10 minutes into the second spell to try to inject some precision into the Canes and got some fo that from replacement lock Jeremy Thrush who also copped a loose boot for his effort, something the citing commissioner might take a close look at.
The Tahs struck in the ninth minute when some sweetly timed passes sent hard running Horne slice through and set up fullback Sam Norton-Knight to score by the posts.
Soon after they got quick ball and it went through the backline just as fast for Lote Tuqiri to slice through on the angle for a try in the corner which Kurtley Beale added the extras.
The Tahs then showed their long-range attack when a Ma’a Nonu grubber kick took a lucky bounce and Lachlan Turner scampered away 80m downfield for the try and a 19-nil lead inside half an hour.
The Waratahs made a crucial strike just before the break when scrum pressure on the Tahs 22 scrum saw Kirkpatrick charge down a Beal clearance and follow through to pounce on the try to make it 5-19 at the break.
A Nonu forward pass cost the Canes a certain try 10 minutes into the second spell as they tried to up the tempo.
They stayed in the right areas and got some reward when Kirkpatrick landed a penalty after hitting the uprights with his two earlier attempts.
The Hurricanes with a wealth of possession started to take the direct route and eventually opened up a gap for hooker Dan Coles to scoot through and score on his Super 14 debut. The conversion suddenly had the home snide sniffing a chance with 13 minutes left.
And there was no lack of action in the run in to the final whistle.
Horne scored a beauty for the Tahs to earn them the bonus point and Hosea Gear immediately replied with conversions at both ends retaining the status quo.
It will be a treasured away win for the Tahs and the Canes will take something out of their set piece work and their late rally as they look to rebound.
The Waratahs host the Chiefs next Friday while the Hurricanes are at home to the Highlanders in a match they simply must win.
Hurricanes 22: Daniel Kirkpatrick, Dan Coles, Hosea Gear tries, Kirkpatrick 2 con, pen
Waratahs 26: Sam Norton Knight, Lote Tuqiri, Lachlan Turner, Rob Horne tries; Kurtley Beale 3 con.Tweet