A late second-half blitz saw the Hurricanes waltz past the Brumbies 16-35 in the first quarter-final at GIO Stadium in Canberra, which incidentally, keeps the Australian franchises winless over Kiwi opposition; no wins from 26 matches this season, to be precise.
This was the Wellington side’s biggest victory over the Brumbies, keeping the ACT side scoreless in the second-half after being 16-12 down inside half an hour.
Tries by James Dargaville and Josh Mann-Rea gave the former champions a fast start, but after the break, the Brumbies fell off tackles, spent most of the time in their 22 and could not score any points as they folded under the New Zealand team’s pressure.
This was a battle between this season’s best attack (Hurricanes) versus the third best defence (Brumbies) and it showed for the best part of the match, right up until the final 10 minutes.
The game was in the balance until the 70th minute before TJ Perenara’s 43rd – and record breaking scrumhalf try – ending any hope the Aussies harboured of an upset.
Soon after, Wes Goosen added the playoff dagger with his second try of the night and fourth for the defending champions, as the Canberra team drowned in the yellow tide.
Jordie Barrett scored his seventh try of the season, kicked three penalties and three conversions for a match haul of 20 points.
The Hurricanes became only the second team in Super Rugby history – after the 2016 Lions – to score 600 points as they move on to the semi-final and defence of their crown.
The fact that these two sides should even be playing in a playoff match is ridiculous; the Brumbies finished with six wins from 15 matches, the same record as the Southern Kings, who were ousted from the tournament – among other reasons – for not being good enough.
However, with home field advantage, and despite the sparse crowd, Stephen Larkham’s team came out firing.
Inside four minutes, Andrew Smith collected Wharenui Hawera’s delayed pass, ran an angled run between two defenders before drawing and passing to Dargaville, who ran in unchallenged to give his team an early lead.
The Hurricanes hit back immediately with their first attack. It came from a pre-planned lineout to Goosen, who gathered the overthrown ball, stepping inside Hawera, Joe Powell and Dargaville before scoring to level the scores.
The Brumbies had the better scrum for most of the match and the first signs of this were in the tenth minute when they won a penalty after dominating the Canes’ pack. Hawera gave his team the lead: 8-3.
If the home team had the scrum ascendancy, they also had the better driving maul. They bulldozed a sleepy Hurricanes pack over their own line for hooker Mann-Rea’s try. Hawera hit the posts again, but it was all Brumbies.
Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett’s partnership in the midfield was not working as well as the Kiwis would have liked, however, Laumape was using his power to burst through tackles and give his team some go-forward ball.
The defence they met was stern, but eventually, the pressure told. After 13 phases and two carries by Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara’s bullet-pass hit Ben May in the head and the ball ricocheted over the try line. and the younger Barrett dives on the loose ball for his seventh try of the season:
The younger Barrett was, as always, quick to react and dived on the loose ball to score another opportunistic try. His conversion brought the scoreline to 13-12.
Hawera and Barrett traded penalties as the two teams went into the shed, separated by a single point.
In the first-half, the Hurricanes were kept quiet by the opposition’s defence, frustrating the visitors at the breakdown, the set pieces and they were not missing many tackles.
This would need to continue after half-time if Larkham’s men were to have any chance. Jeff To’omaga-Allen was sent to the sin-bin prior to the break, but the Brumbies could not score any points, despite their good field position and possession.
The Canes would make them pay. Jordie Barrett added two penalties for the only points in the 25 minutes after the break to give his side a five-point lead.
However, the Hurricanes were spending long periods inside the Brumbies’ 22, it was only their finishing that kept them to kicking three-pointers.
The home team were tiring and starting to slip off tackles. After 67 minutes, a statistic showing the New Zealand team’s dominance popped up; the Brumbies had spent 2 minutes 26 seconds inside the Hurricanes’ 22, while the visitors had spent over eight minutes in the Brumbies’ 22.
The dam wall could not hold for much longer. A minute later Perenara was over for the Hurricanes’ third try after some smart work by Dane Coles: game over.
There was still time for Goosen to grab a second try, becoming the second Hurricane to score two tries in a playoff game since the great Christian Cullen in 1997.
Final Score: Brumbies 16 (16) Hurricanes 35 (15)
Tries – Dargaville, Mann-Rea
Pen – Hawera (2)
Tries – Goosen (2), J. Barrett, Perenara
Pen – J. Barrett (3)
Con – J. Barrett (3)
Cards – To’omaga-Allen (Yellow, 41st minute)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 2: Will Houston
TMO: Ian Smith
15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Christian Lealiifano.
15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara (captain), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Cory Jane