Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett kicked 20 points as his side narrowly beat the Vodacom Bulls 25-20 in their Vodacom Super Rugby game in Napier on Saturday.
A questionable scrum penalty in the 74th minute against Bulls prop Werner Kruger eventually settled matters, with Barrett adding a final penalty after the final whistle to knock the nails in the coffin.
But in a strange game where the Hurricanes did almost all the attacking, the Bulls led by a solitary point going into the last 10 minutes, having soaked up the pressure and clawed their way back into the game.
It was strange as the Hurricanes did enough in the first half to almost put the Bulls away – except put the points on the scoreboard. The Bulls had to make almost 100 tackles in the first half – 146 in the match – as they kept themselves in the hunt through some stern defence and their gritty resolve not to give in.
The Hurricanes took the score out to 13-3 early, but by halftime were only three points ahead and with the Bulls getting better in the second half, had to dig deep to get the win.
The Bulls effort was not without cost though – they lost flankers Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann, as well as flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter to injury. It will be interesting to see if the trio can make it through the tour or if replacements will be called.
The Bulls will be kicking themselves for their inability to control the breakdown – seven of their nine penalties conceded were while they were in possession and many were because of the terrier talents of Jack Lam – almost always in a kickable possession and costing points almost every single time.
Perhaps it was the disruption of the loose trio to injury, but the speed that the Bulls got to the rucks left their ball carriers exposed and stopped any momentum they tried to build.
The injuries did finally give the Bulls a chance to play the impressive youngster Handre Pollard though, and apart from a missed touch kick and missed penalty – he did not disappoint.
Pollard scored the try that put the Bulls into the lead – taking the ball after the rolling maul failed to fire, breaking through a tackle and then having enough momentum to go over - giving the Bulls some hope of winning a game they never should have gotten close to winning.
Earlier the Canes opened up an early lead through Barrett’s penalty, which was followed by a clinical exploitation of the defensive lines as the flyhalf put a cross kick to an open Corey Jane, who looped the ball back inside to Andre Taylor to score the first try.
Despite another two penalties by Barrett, the Bulls hit back as the Hurricanes failed to take a high ball and flyhalf Potgieter snatched it up, taking it forward before slinging the ball inside to Jurgen Visser to score.
Up to the point where he went off the field, Potgieter was by far the most dangerous Bulls player, doing his best to try and get his side on the front foot.
And despite having almost no ball to speak of the Bulls were only three points behind the Canes at the break.
The visitors made adjustments in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Canes from stretching the lead to 19-13 as the game wore on, before Pollard struck to give them the lead.
Then the crucial penalty came – referee Steve Walsh seeing a binding infringement on a Bulls attacking scrum in a kickable position, and the All Black Barrett didn’t hesitate to drill it through the uprights.
The Bulls tried desperately to get out of their own half – but cool heads didn’t always prevail, and decisions such as the quick tap at the end – played against them.
In the end the Bulls had taken all the Canes threw at them and their defence for the most part stood up. Their attacking game – apart from brief glimpses – was nowhere on the night though.
Unless they find this aspect to their game, they will find the next three weeks on tour to be a hard slog.
Hurricanes - Try: Andre Taylor. Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Barrett (6).
Vodacom Bulls - Tries: Jurgen Visser, Handre Pollard. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Pollard. Penalties: Potgieter (2).