The buzz is slowly but surely returning to Hurricanes country.
After one of the flatter seasons on record, so far, coach Colin Cooper’s men cruised back into the Super 14′s top four with a 34-11 bonus-point win over the Stormers in Wellington last night.
In front of 20,437, the biggest home crowd of the year, wing David Smith fittingly showed the way with a man-of-the-match performance on the left wing.
Toby Robson writes for Sunday News that speedster Smith was like a beacon on the left wing, zipping into the backline, darting through gaps and running the ball back with purpose.
And with the All Blacks selectors in the stand, Ma’a Nonu grabbed two tries in the second half continuing his steady rise in performance.
Cooper has steered well clear of the word “semi” and “final” this season but last night he gave voice to the side’s growing confidence.
“To come home and get five points back from Africa is great. The boys have turned things around,” he said.
“The win against the Force (last week) was tremendous for this group and to watch how it’s lifted them this week.
“We have a great opportunity now to head into the semifinals. We just have to take that inconsistency out of our play.”
Even though they had the four-try bonus point with 18 minutes to play the Hurricanes could have won this match by far more after leading 17-8 at the break through tries to lock Jeremy Thrush and wing Tamati Ellison.
“There was opportunity for more tries and we have to be better than that,” Cooper said. “Instead of a forward pass, hold on to the ball and build.
“I think we get a bit frustrated because we see opportunities to score more tries but forward passes are holding us back.”
The Hurricanes’ renewed sense of optimism ahead of home games against the Brumbies next Saturday and the Blues is palpable.
Cooper’s gamble to rest a number of fatigued players proved a good bet and he has welcome selection headaches to ponder during the week.
Willie Ripia made a good fist of his second start at first-five, kicking six of six attempts at goal for a personal tally of 14 points.
It would surprise if a fit-again Piri Weepu did not start inside Ripia at halfback against the Brumbies next week after missing last night’s match with a pulled hamstring.
The Hurricanes fell behind early after fullback Cory Jane slipped in defence allowing replacement second-five Dylan des Fountain to toe through for a 5-0 lead.
Des Fountain had just taken the field for Stormers captain Jean de Villiers who pulled a groin after five minutes.
Smith’s explosive run inside Ripia from the blindside wing set up Thrush to make it 10-5 after 20 minutes and on the half-hour mark, Ellison jogged in after a long Nonu pass found its mark.
Out of the playoff race the Stormers clearly had nothing to lose and threw the ball around from the kick off and attacked from deep.
When first-five Peter Grant chipped from his 22, Jane countered before feeding a storming Nonu for a 27-11 lead on 50 minutes.
Nonu got his second after a simple one-two with Ripia before both coaches rung the changes in a scrappy final quarter.
Hurricanes 34 (Ma’a Nonu 2, Jeremy Thrush, Tamati Ellison tries; Willie Ripia 2 pen, 4 con)
Stormers 11 (Dylan Des Fountain try; Peter Grant 2 pen).
Meanwhile Toby Robson also reports that Jean de Villiers fears his Super 14 season is over after suffering what he believes is a serious tear to his groin.
The Stormers captain struck a disconsolate figure after his side’s 34-11 loss to the Hurricanes heaped more misery on their seemingly cursed season.
“ I will go for scans tomorrow, but I definitely won’t play next week (against the Highlanders),” South Africa’s 2008 player of the year said after a match in which he lasted just seven minutes.
He had his fingers crossed the injury would not be around by the time the South African selectors sat down to name their squad to play the British and Irish Lions.Tweet