Bumbling Blues blown away
The Hurricanes put their campaign back on track with a bonus-point (39-20) win over the Blues on Friday.
The Round 10 Super Rugby encounter in Wellington produced seven tries and plenty of action - especially from the high-flying Hurricanes, who moved into the top six on the standings.
And the Blues now haven't won a game on the road since February last year - ironically beating the Hurricanes in Wellington.
In the end it was the Hurricanes' superior attacking play and the Blues' high error count that contributed most to the outcome.
The Hurricanes were willing to take the risks from deep and their skills helped them blow away a bumbling Blues team that kicked away far too much possession.
The Blues were dealt a late blow, with Ma'a Nonu ruled out just hours before kick-off through injury. The All Black midfielder had been experiencing some tightness in his left calf during the week, and while he travelled with team to Wellington, he was reassessed by the medical team on the morning of the match and they have decided not to risk him. Jackson Willison replaced him in the No.12 jersey.
However, the Blues made the better start of the two teams - taking the ball through enough phases to force a penalty out of the Hurricanes' defence. Chris Noakes marked his return by slotting the three points to give his team, the lead.
The Hurricanes returned the favour and after six minutes Beauden Barrett slotted his first penalty - which came from a player flopping on the ball on the wrong side of a tackle, 3-all. When Francis Saili went offside in the 10th minute Barrett claimed the lead for the home team - 6-3 to the Hurricanes.
And the home team got the first try minutes later, after some great hands and swift passing exposed the Blues' defence in midfield - Alapati Leiua stepping through Jackson Willison to stroll over for the five-pointer. Barrett's conversion made it 13-3.
Barrett was wide with a penalty and the TMO ruled out a try by Julian Savea, because the last pass was forward, but the Hurricanes were looking to run the Blues ragged.
However, the Blues worked their way back into the game and with the assistance of two penalties they found themselves five metres out. After a failed maul wing George Moala pounced on a stray ball and went over in the corner. Noakes added the extras - 10-13 on the half-hour mark.
Barrett, after winning a turnover with a big hit on Noakes and then hoofing it upfield where his team won a penalty at the breakdown, was wide with another shot at goal.
The TMO was again called into action when Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles produced a spectacular swan dive in the corner. However, the ruling was that his hand had touched in goal before the ball was grounded.
And it got worse for the hooker right on the half-time break, Coles being yellow carded for a professional foul - when he prevented a possible try by killing the ball.
The Blues opted for a scrum and when somebody in the retreating Hurricanes scrum kicked the ball out, the referee awarded a penalty try. The conversions, by Benji Marshall - on for an injured Noakes - made it 17-13 at the half-time break.
A succession of scrappy scrums ate up most of the time Coles spent in the sin bin after the break.
And the Hurricanes made the most of their good fortune.
First, from a scrum inside the Blues 22, they worked the ball through the phases till - from a ruck close to the line - Julian Savea came on a good angle and beat the tackle of Jerome Kaino to get a crucial try.
Then, minutes later, the Hurricanes launched a blistering counter from deep inside their half after a poor downfield kick by the Blues. Alapati Leiua made good ground and Cory Jane produced a sublime offload - which attracted the attention of the TMO - before TJ Perenara handed off Kevin Mealamu to score.
Barrett kicked both conversions as the home team took a 27-17 lead.
Benji Marshall kicked a penalty in the 56th minute, before the killer blow came 15 minutes from time - captain Conrad Smith following up a Savea kick to get the bonus-point try. Barrett again added the extras - 34-20.
There was enough time for replacement hooker Motu Matu'u to get a fifth time, Barrett pushing the conversion wide - the final score a surprising 39-20 margin.
Man of the match: The Blues' loose forwards - Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid and Steven Luatua - had an enormous workload that kept their team in the hunt when, at times, it appeared the Hurricanes would run riot. Beauden Barrett directed play very well, wasn't shy to make tackles and put a couple of monster hits on opposite Chris Noakes. Julian Savea was again a monster with ball in hand. However, our award goes to Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith - who again showed why he is currently regarded as one of the best, if not the best, outside centres in the world. His reading of the game and defensive work were invaluable to the Hurricanes' cause.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Leiua, Perenara, Savea, Smith, Matu'u
Cons: Barrett 4
Pens: Barrett 2
For the Blues:
Tries: Moala, Penalty try
Cons: Noakes, Marshall
Pens: Noakes, Marshall
Yellow card: Dane Coles (Hurricanes, 39 - professional foul, killing the ball near the tryline)
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 George Moala, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Frank Halai.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)