The Hurricanes kept their Super 14 semi-final hopes alive – but only just – as they battled their way to an uninspiring 23-13 at the Brumbies.
The Hurricanes kept their Super 14 semi-final hopes alive – but only just – as they battled their way to an uninspiring 23-13 win over the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.
It wasn't pretty, in fact at times it was darn right ugly, but the Hurricanes won't complain. They did what they had to and live to fight another day.
The Brumbies can't complain either – they had enough chances to keep their trans-Tasman rivals out of the match but failed to capitalise from two yellow cards dished out to the visitors in the first half.
Instead, the hosts – with a mountain of possession and territory – could only muster five points against fourteen men over a twenty minute spell. But credit must go to the Hurricanes, whose rock-solid defence never gave an inch.
Both sides managed two tries, but the Brumbies' ill-discipline and Matt Giteau's wayward boot allowed Hurricanes' fly-half Aaron Cruden – who also had a shocker with the tee – to keep the hosts at bay.
With the game still hanging in the balance, the Hurricanes sealed the deal thanks to a Victor Vito try in the 72nd minute that left the home side and their supporters scratching their heads after what seemed to be a knock-on.
It was their first defeat at home this season and ended an impressive streak of eight wins in Canberra.
The Brumbies looked every bit a team acutely aware of the importance of victory to keep them in touch with the leading group, and played like a team shackled by that pressure.
They threw 50-50 passes, took contact when they should have shifted the ball, committed too few bodies to the breakdown making them susceptible to the counter-ruck, or simply ran out of attacking options and kicked poorly.
The only points in the first half came from a Patrick Phibbs' try – this, after Tyson Keats was sent to the bin – and a Cruden penalty on the stroke of half-time. The Hurricanes would have been satisfied with the 5-3 scoreline at the break having been forced to make 61 tackles and work with a paltry 29 per cent possession.
Cruden kicked a second penalty soon after the break to give the Hurricanes a lead against the odds. That was extended soon after when Conrad Smith crashed over after some good work by Cory Jane and Tamati Ellison. Cruden converted from the sideline to put all the pressure back on the Brumbies.
Their response was emphatic with Matt Giteau finally taking control of proceedings to get the Brumbies into the Hurricanes danger-zone and then scoring from out wide himself. However, he was unable to convert his own try.
Cruden had a chance to stretch the Hurricanes further in front but missed a regulatory kick from 30m out – his third miss from six attempts.
The Hurricanes pivot made no mistake from a similar position soon after when replacement hooker Huia Edmonds was sin-binned as the Brumbies started to feel the heat at the breakdowns.
Giteau finally found his target in the 68th minute to close the home side to within three points and set up a thrilling finish, before workhorse flanker Vito scooped up a loose ball off the ground and sliced through in broken play to score the match-winner.
This was converted by Cruden making it a ten-point game and the Hurricanes held firm to the end.
Man of the match: Neither side produced any stand-out players, but if anyone deserved a beer after the match it has to be Victor Vito for producing the only highlight in a very dull encounter.
Tries: Phibbs, Giteau
Tries: Smith, Vito
Cons: Cruden 2
Pens: Cruden 3
Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Justin Harrison, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 James Stannard, 21 Brackin Kaurauria-Henry, 22 Andrew Smith/Ed Stubbs.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Nick Crosswell, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Jason Kawau.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)