In the lead up to the first home game of the season for the Force, and the final game of the Hurricanes’ arduous away tour of South Africa and Perth before the bye, there was talk of complacency and of a possible ambush. But it was the Force caught unawares – suffering their biggest ever home loss to the men from Wellington.
The Force were the first to get a score on the board after the Hurricanes were pinged for not rolling away. But this would be the only time in the match that the Force would lead the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes looked much sharper than the Force – getting over the advantage line nearly every phase. Off a long kick with no chase, Barrett opted to counter-attack with Marshall, combining up the left touch line to pierce the Force line unscathed.
When it looked like the try-scoring opportunity had been snuffed out, the Hurricanes took a quick lineout and manufactured an overlap on the blindside after a few phases, only for Julian Savea to drop the ball cold. The Hurricanes continued to batter the Force line after winning the scrum feed before Mafi won a relieving penalty. A Mathewson dart from the ensuing lineout put the Force on the front foot, before Franks tackled Godwin and forced a turnover.
A Julian Savea break, and the sublime interplay between forwards in midfield that followed saw Jane jog in untouched. A missed conversion by Barrett saw the scores remain at 3-5. When the Force had possession in Hurricanes territory, they were building phases but were making errors and losing the contact regularly. In contrast the Hurricanes were dangerous with the ball but perhaps lacking the finishing touch on occasions like the Barrett chip-and-chase in the 31st minute.
After sustained pressure in the Force’s 22, Abbott barrelled over; his converted try extending their lead to 3-12. The Force rolling maul was starting to pressure the Hurricanes into conceding penalties but Holmes’ radar was off. However, Holmes exploited a forward mismatch and made a half-break. After winning a penalty, the Force kicked for touch instead of taking the three, sensing the momentum shift in their favour.
Struggling to defend the Force rolling maul, the Hurricanes infringed again. When the ball went out of the lineout, the Hurricanes defence held firm, and forced a turnover two minutes later. Making their way up-field, the Hurricanes were awarded a penalty, duly slotted by Barrett. After some aerial tennis, the Force rumbled it up and won a penalty. At the 41st minute, Wykes pointed at the poles.
Going into half time the Force trailed the Hurricanes 6-15, and would now be playing into the wind. The Hurricanes had 86% advantage line success to the Force’s 52%. The Force had also missed 23 tackles in one half.
It was strictly one-sided from here on with the score blowing out; the only consolation: a maiden Super Rugby try for substitute winger Mitchell Scott.
A chance went begging in the 42nd minute when Savea knocked it on after a half break. Soon after, a breakdown penalty was conceded, and Barrett extended the lead even further to 6-18. Coming off second best in the kicking duel, the Force get a lucky break when a dubious Ardie Savea penalty gave them a piggy-back into the Hurricanes half. Burton took a shot at goal but was faring no better with the kicking tee than Holmes.
For the next few minutes, the Force were camped inside the opposition half, but defensive pressure and impatience resulted in errors. Compound this with a botched lineout and the Hurricanes were now on the offensive, having ‘weathered the storm’. A well formed rolling maul earned them a penalty advantage and again Barrett took the points on offer. At 6-21, the Hurricanes pushed further out in front. The Hurricanes ventured into the Force half again and were now going for the jugular by kicking for touch.
Three minutes later, the Hurricanes scored when Vito did a pick-and-go off the second phase from the scrum. From 6-28 the Hurricanes pulled away. Poor ball retention by the Force in the 64th minute saw the ball turned over to substitute Milner-Skudder, who unlocked the Force defence. He passed to Julian Savea, who superbly finished off the try by bumping off Morahan like a pinball, and secured the four-try bonus point. The kick was unsuccessful at 6-33.
You could sense that the Hurricanes, with the game and four-try bonus point in the bag, took the foot off the pedal from 65 minutes onwards. Despite that, they were still making most of the play in that stop-start period. Two tries were oddly disallowed by TMO George Ayoub, which flattered the Force. As did a late try in the 78th minute to Mitchell Scott from a chargedown.
A lot of questions have to be raised, especially around the Force’s kicking, set piece, attack, and the fact tackling was optional.
The Game Changer
At around the 30th minute mark is when it seemed the Force would not be able to wrestle back the lead. Despite having the majority of the possession and territory in the ten minutes before half time, the Force, like the Hurricanes, could only score three points. You could also detect that the Hurricanes’ players resolve grew with each successful attacking foray they repelled, while the Force increasingly became more impatient and panicked.
The G&GR MOTM
In my mind it was Ben McCalman. In a losing cause, he carried, he tackled, he hit breakdowns for the full 80. Even with the extra attention from the Hurricanes, he still made metres with his fearless ball carries. If there were 14 more Ben McCalmans on the field, the players’ effort would never be questioned.
Apart from Big Dog, no one else did their Wallabies prospects any favours.
Score & Scorers
Penalties: Holmes, Burton
Tries: Jane, Abbott, Vito, J.Savea, Marshall
Conversions: Barrett (2), Marshall (2)
Penalties: Barrett (3)
Cards & citings