The hot Hurricanes can smell the Super 14 playoffs now after they shredded the ragged Blues in another high-scoring thriller in the capital on Friday night.
The pulsating New Zealand derby threw up 10 tries with the Hurricanes starting and finished strongly to emerge deserved 45-27 winners.
In what promises to be another turbulent weekend of results, one thing is sure. By the time week 12 action wraps up on Sunday morning the Hurricanes will still be sitting top of the table.
Duncan Johnstone reports for Rugbyheaven NZ that the Blues’ semifinal hopes are all but done and dusted. They collected another solitary bonus point but they are vulnerable to being overtaken from all corners now.
In contrast the Hurricanes control their own destiny – two more bonus point wins against the Chiefs and Reds and they will qualify top for the playoffs.
It’s as simple as that. And that does sound somewhat simple on their current form.
After blitzing the Brumbies with eight tries last week, they came up with another six to record just their fourth win against the Blues. And what an important one.
Hurricanes v Blues matches have a history of being entertaining affairs and this was end-to-end from the word go.
The Hurricanes had their bonus point after just 21 minutes as their forwards dominated the collisions and their backs took advantage.
They are in the middle of a purple patch that the Chiefs found themselves in not so long ago.
Everything they touch turns to gold. But a bit like the Chiefs then, they have also been guilty of conceding points.
All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick lamented the style and state of Super 14 rugby when the Chiefs pummeled the Blues and he must be really wondering about his old franchise now that they have been carved up by the Hurricanes as well.
Based on this evidence, he does have as point. As breathtaking as the attack was at the Cake Tin, the defence was dreadful at times, particularly during a frantic first half.
The Blues again displayed the worst tackling record in the championship. That more than anything has cost them this season for their attack remains potent with All Blacks stars Isaia Toeava and Joe Rokocoko in hot form.
The Canes, meanwhile, charge on with their confidence levels overflowing.
Colin Cooper’s team now travel to Hamilton to play a Chiefs side who will be hopping off the plane from South Africa.
The Blues now trek across the Tasman to tackle the Brumbies in Canberra and then host the Crusaders. Whether anything hangs on the final match is doubtful given both their current form and medical bulletin that now includes another ankle-Achilles injury to Ali Williams who was forced off after just 18 minutes of this match in Wellington.
The Blues didn’t lack endeavour and dominated plenty of the statistics. But they were hit hard in the turnovers area and the Hurricanes loose forwards, as expected against their injury-hit opposites, had a field day at times with Scott Waldrom in outstanding form.
Blues openside Tom Chamberlain must have wondered what he had struck, coming from club football into a game of this pace.
The Blues experiment at the back did work though with Rudi Wulf looking dangerous on attack from fullback and right wing Rene Ranger showing plenty of involvement in a week where he has gained attention for all the wrong reasons.
He looked like he was out to repay his team mates for his off-field indiscretion that has resulted in court action.
But it counted for little in the end. The Hurricanes upped their defence when it mattered in the second half to see out a crucial victory.
Not that there was much celebrating.
“We were actually disappointed today. There wasn’t enough structure,” said perfectionist skipper Rodney So’oialo, obviously realising the sort of precision that will be required if they are to be title contenders.
The Blues knew the game had slipped away from them early and not even a brave comeback could stop a record Hurricanes score against them.
“We were disappointed with the points we gave away in the first half. It was just too much to catch up. But the team kept at it and I’m very proud of the effort,” said Blues skipper Keven Mealamu.
“We got our bonus point at the very end and that shows that we are never giving up.”
The Blues made an instant raid into Hurricanes territory from the opening kickoff and earned a penalty through a Ma’a Nonu offside. Jimmy Gopperth goaled from in front.
The Canes’ reply was emphatic, sweeping back on to attack as the Blues muffed the restart. They went wide off a lineout win and Conrad Smith sliced the visitors apart with an angled run to the line.
David Smith made a great break down the touchline soon after, carving up his old Blues side and feeding to Waldrom for the try.
The home side struck again from a Blues turnover with fullback Tamati Ellison showing his class with a kick and chase to recollect the ball and jog to the line.
Back came the Blues as they pounced on a Canes’ mistake with Wulf capitalising and setting up Rokocoko for the try.
The scoreboard couldn’t keep up as the Canes struck from the kickoff with Nonu charghing through them up for the bonus point.
Ellison slipped through some more sloppy Blues defence for his brace.
Then Blues centre Anthony Tuitavake shrugged off would-be tackles from David Smith and Nonu to score in the corner and cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 35-13 at halftime.
The Blues took less than two minutes to open the second half with a try as the tempo continued.
Toeava split the Canes apart and fed a good pass to the flying Ranger for the try which Gopperth finally managed to convert.
The Canes soaked up everything the Blues threw at them over the next 20 minutes and then got some relief when Nonu took matters into his own hands and charged straight through the Blues and into the post to score.
They slowed things down with a penalty goal from the trusty boot of Willie Ripia to put matters beyond doubt.
There was time for replacement loosie Dean Budd to snatch a bonus point with the last act of the match but that was too little too late for the Blues.
Importantly for the Hurricanes they appeared to emerge injury-free as they assume the responsibility of leading New Zealand’s charge into the playoffs.
Hurricanes 45: Conrad Smith, Scott Waldrom, Tamati Ellison 2, Ma’a Nonu 2 tries; Willie Ripia 6 con, pen.
Blues 27: Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake, Rene Ranger, Dean Budd tries; Jimmy Gopperth 2 con, penTweet