In my preview I suggested that the result of this game would come down to who wanted it more. It now looks like both teams wanted it pretty badly. The Hurricanes reminded everyone that they are a New Zealand rugby powerhouse and the Reds were in it until the final kick of the game.
The Reds looked powerful from the kick-off. Two strong runs from Will Chambers helped Scott Higginbotham to barge over for the first score 80 seconds into the game. It looked like the Reds intended to dominate the match and for the next five minutes the Reds went about their business like they had for the past seven games. They had a try disallowed after Quade Cooper kicked through for Luke Morahan — the ball just left his fingertips before he could touch it down.
To their credit the Hurricanes regrouped and dominated the rest of the half, running in four tries and 22 points to zero in the next 35 minutes. Their tries were constructed off strong forward play and team support through multiple phases. Levave scored the first at the 10-minute mark to even the score, while the Reds’ third chance to score was foiled by a Hurricanes boot in a ruck only metres from the line.
Aaron Cruden scored next, slipping through untouched after another great Hurricanes build up. The pattern of the half was starting to form with the Reds gifting the Hurricanes possession, which they then used to great effect. The Reds’ much-praised defence of last week was not on song here, and it showed. Their line-out was not performing and three losses on his throw was not the result young hooker Hanson was looking for.
The next Canes try seemed to involve a very forward pass; except for that it was just reward for great attacking football. Building from deep in their half, they ran the ball through the Reds like they weren’t there. When the Reds were pinged for lying in the ruck Andrew Hore showed faith in his side by opting for a kick for touch rather than for goal. The Hurricanes showed the patience that has been missing so much this year to control the ball and recycle quickly, allowing Andre Taylor to score the try.
Neemia Tialata’s try was also the result of great work at the ruck and patient build-up. Jason Eaton managed to get his boot onto a Reds’ ruck ball on his own 40-metre line, they worked it up field and then then the 127-kilo Tialata ran onto the ball at full pace — and Will Genia, at 85 kilos, had no chance of stopping him.
In just 20 minutes the Hurricanes had scored four tries to lead 22–5. It was only poor goal-kicking that didn’t see them at closer to 30 points.
James Hanson paid the price for his poor line-out throwing when he was yanked for Saia Faingaa at the 35-minute mark. But by now the damage was done. Hanson may strengthen the scrum, but I believe Faingaa is better at the line-out and in general play, and remains the better option overall.
The second half started like the first with the Reds hard on attack, and two minutes in — after strong build up play and fast ruck ball — Quade Cooper kicked perfectly across the field for Luke Morahan, who ran onto the ball ten metres out and scored in the corner. Three minutes later the Reds earned three points from a ruck penalty, taking the score to 13–22.
The Reds were working their way back into the match and I was thinking “we still have great players on the bench and should come home the stronger.” Maybe Ewen McKenzie and I were psychically linked, because Radike Samo, Rob Simmons and Anthony Faingaa were subbed on with 30 minutes to go.
Another penalty and beautiful gap running by Morahan resulted in a converted try, putting the Reds right back into the match: behind just 23–25 with 15 minutes to go. Then at 71 minutes the Hurricanes conceded another kickable penalty, and the Reds moved into the lead with eight minutes to go. In a late change, Greg Holmes was replaced by debutant Albert Anae.
The last three minutes summed up the Reds’ night. Picture it: the Reds are attacking from a scrum 20 metres out. The ball flies to Cooper who tries another cross-field kick. This one is easily marked by the Canes. They play on and when they run out of options they hoof the ball aimlessly downfield. Morahan decides to slide on his back to try to catch the ball on the full, and knocks on. Scrum Hurricanes. They win it and they spin it all the way to Hosea Gear, who makes a few metres and sets up the ruck. It comes back and Guy Shepherdson is caught offside; ref Ian Smith lets it go until play breaks down and then awards the penalty in a kickable position. Aaron Cruden, who has missed kicks all night, calmly steps up and boots the ball between the posts to secure the win.
The Reds had just needed to keep the ball in hand to secure the win; instead they twice gave dream chances to the Hurricanes. They hadn’t respected possession all night, and that cost them the match in the final minutes.
I haven’t mentioned referee Smith much because I think he had little effect on the outcome of the game. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he had a poor game, but I do believe his policing of the breakdown was sub-par and he missed a lot around the field. Once the teams realised they could get away with, the standard of the game deteriorated.
Put his hand up: James Horwill was once again huge in the tight stuff. His leadership and enthusiasm helped keep his team in the game. He is better for every game back.
Did themselves no favours: James Hanson missed a golden opportunity to impress in a rare run-on start; Adam Wallace-Harrison fell victim to Ewen McKenzie’s obsession with playing second-rowers at blindside flanker.
Bolter watch: Luke Morahan may have put one foot through the door opened by Drew Mitchell’s ankle injury. He is big and fast and knows where the try-line is. His only blemish was the botched sliding catch attempt towards the end of the game.
- Preview: Hurricanes v. Reds (greenandgoldrugby.com)