HURRICANES (voice up) HURRICANES (voice down) HURRICANES [Repeat]. It may be a while before the echo stops in my head.
The Kiwis are the first and only conference in Super Rugby where all franchises have won a final. The Hurricanes managed to keep their record clean – no tries have been scored against them in the finals series in 2016 and they have a new club record – eight wins in a row.
Pre-game the Lions looked really excited but something in their demeanour suggested that their season highlight was last week. Today was a bonus. The Lions gave the Hurricanes halves pairing a lot more to think about than previous games – it just wasn’t enough.
The Hurricanes key weapon was their fearless lack of concern for possession. And a rush defense that consistently closed down the Lions play at the second receiver. They generally won the kicking battles and were more effective on the counter. Especially on first or second phase play. When the Lions turned possession into territory, the ’Canes simply knuckled under with their defense.
Windy Wellington. Not the cyclone we have seen, but a freezing and wet Antarctic blast. Conditions varied from dry to drizzle throughout the game.
Early on the Lions gained a penalty (off side, Hurricanes immediately testing how far they can push the defense). As happens in The Cake Tin, the ball is blown off the tee. Elton Jantjies has to hurry. The kick is wide.
The Lions dominate possession. TJ Perenara looks to even the stat by playing the forwards one out through pick and go and single play phases. A loose ‘Cane ball has Perenara immediately snapping back into opportunity mode. Pass to Beauden Barrett who kick passes for the corner. Corey Jane dives over. It’s called back by the TMO to an earlier knock on.
My count shows the TMO has gone back four phases. (Can they do that?)
The first kicking duel has Barrett and Jantjies not dominating. Barrett offers the ball to Ruan Combrinck instead. His kick is fluffed. Territory gain to the Hurricanes. It’s called back for Lions offside. Penalty by Barrett, Hurricanes 3-nil Lions.
Both packs are working hard. The Hurricanes rush defense is creating real problems for the Lions. Jantjies has no room and no time. He is slowly getting deeper. There is no time or space for an. He forces a pass and Lionel Mapoe makes rushes a kick. Exceptional handling skills by Corey Jane to gather this kick on the fly and dives over the line. This one sticks! Barrett converts, Hurricanes 10 Lions nil.
There was a question as to whether the Lions, with their superb centres, would be able to deal with the ‘Canes line speed. The second receiver is targeted, what can the Lions centres do? We are just past the first quarter and an answer is forming. [Not much!]
Jantjies is offered a penalty (that line speed being judged off side), Hurricanes 10-3 Lions.
The Lions line outs are being disrupted, the kicking isn’t working and they are not breaking the line, or when they do desperate Hurricanes defense holds up.
So they opt for the scrum. A lot in a short period. It is dominant. Repeated infringements must surely see some referee action. Out of the blue, the Hurricanes pack goes all awesome. The ‘Canes demolish the opposition and THEY gain a scrum penalty. The Lions must be hurting from having failed to gain points from this period.
The overriding story is that the Lions have not yet found a response to the Hurricanes defense and line speed. And not much else in their bag of tricks is scoring either.
Half Time Hurricanes 10 – Lions 3
Dane Coles has been playing with damaged ribs from a fortnight earlier. That’s got to be an uncomfortable injury for a hooker. He leaves the field in pain three minutes after half time. Ricky Riccitelli immediately makes the same impact he did last week when Coles wasn’t available.
A period of play has the Lions swarming and the Hurricanes defense going backwards. Good gains by the Lions and the ‘Canes haven’t managed to marshal their defense for once. This ends by a high exit kick that Courtnall Skosan knocks forward into the hands of his team mate Franco Mostert. He’s been playing the house down for the Lions but gives away a penalty here. Barrett is successful with the kick. Hurricanes 13-3 Lions.
The ‘Canes gain a little extra zip in their step with these points. The rush defense is back and the line speed is back up to 11 on the dial.
The match has now settled. Possession mostly with the Lions who are unable to do much with it. For the Hurricanes Loni Uhila (prop known as “the Tongan Bear”) is damaging. Michael Fatialofa (lock) and Brad Shields (6) are powerful and Ardie Savea (7) is everywhere.
Riccitelli takes a head knock. The ref insists he is replaced for a blood bin. Dane Coles returns! Ribs, pain and all! He has to survive a collapsed scrum – and a pat on the head from Malcolm Marx. Opposing hookers are a supportive bunch – after the game. Riccitelli is back two minutes later, and bleeds through to the final bell.
With 15 minutes to go Ackerman (Lions coach) starts the bench changes. The match is still truly available for the Lions, though few in the crowd believe it will happen.
Barrett leaps for a catch and is taken out in the air. Penalty kick for a 15 yard line out. The ‘Canes muck up the line out, but the Lions weren’t expecting the ball. Confusion between Jaco Kriel and replacement Ross Cronje sees the ball grubbing across the try line with Riccitelli and Barrett (flying out of nowhere) fighting for the try. Barrett wins. And converts.
It’s over. The Lions desperation sets in but they get no closer.
Congratulations to the Hurricanes, 2106 Super Rugby winners!
Final Score Hurricanes 20 – Lions 3
The Lions refused the points on offer and opted for scrums in a period between 30 and 35 minutes. The Hurricanes finished it with a one off perfect scrum. After this the Lions could only repeat things that were not working.
Man of the Match
Plumtree (Hurricanes defense coach) must be mentioned (again). Perenara and Barrett are high on the list (again). But surely with all that defense a forward must be rewarded. This time the decision goes on passion. My MOTM goes to the irrepressible Dane Coles.
Score and Scorers
Hurricanes – 20
Tries: Corey Jane (22′) Beauden Barrett(69′)
Conversions: Beaudan Barrett 2/2
Penalties: Beaudan Barret 2/2
Lions – 3
Penalties: Elton Janites 1/3
Cards & Citings