Hurricanes pivot Aaron Cruden kicked a last-minute penalty to snatch a thrilling 28-26 win over the Reds on Saturday.
Hurricanes pivot Aaron Cruden kicked a last-minute penalty to snatch a thrilling 28-26 Super Rugby win over the Reds in Wellington on Saturday.
After trailing 22-5 at half-time, the Queenslanders were just one minute away from claiming an emphatic come-from-behind victory and continue their winning streak in the competition.
However, with a desperate Hurricanes outfit on the attack, an offsides call from referee Keith Brown allowed Cruden to step up and deny the Reds a record eighth win on the trot in a nail-biting finish to a super game of rugby.
Nobody could have predicted it – ok, we did (sorry – ed!) – after the Hurricanes' poor form in the competition compared to the red hot Reds. But after a poor start to the match, the home side amazingly had their four-try bonus point wrapped up before the break.
The Reds hit back in the second half, outscoring their hosts 21 points to three with wing Luke Morahan bagging a brace until Cruden had the last laugh with that match-winning penalty…
It was the visitors' first meeting with a New Zealand side in the tournament, and it looked like another Reds' rampage was on the cards when number eight Scott Higginbotham powered over with barely three minutes up on the clock.
Cooper missed the conversion after a perfect start to the match, and as it turned out, Higginbotham's try would be the last time the Reds would score until the second half.
A clever Cooper kick almost got the Reds another try just a few minutes later, but Morahan lost the ball forward as he tried to get downward pressure on it under close attention from full-back Andre Taylor.
From then on in, it was all the Hurricanes.
The hosts struck back first through Faifili Levave after a strong break-out from wing Alapati Leiua ended with the flanker over in the corner. Cruden, who had a poor night with the boot landing just three of his seven shots at goal, pulled his conversion from the touchline wide but the team's were level 5-5 with 13 minutes played.
Cruden then sliced his way through the Reds' defence in the 26th minute to slam the ball down behind the posts for a converted try that sparked a Hurricanes' try-fest.
The Queenslanders didn't know what had hit them after two more quick-fire scores to Taylor and prop Neemia Tialata followed – both unconverted – to post a handsome lead at the break.
The start of the second half was a replica of the opening to the match. A pinpoint accurate kick from Cooper saw Morahan dot down in the corner as the Reds looked to start a fightback.
Cooper converted a penalty that got the Reds back to within nine points but that was quickly rubbed out when Higginbotham tackled Hurricanes centre Ngatai high and Cruden slotted the straightforward penalty.
Ngatai, however, had to be taken from the field after twisting awkwardly in the tackle.
A second Cooper penalty got the Reds right back in the match and when Morahan scored a wonderful individual try in the 64th minute, Cooper converted to close the gap to two points Hurricanes nerves began to jangle.
The Hurricanes' hopes of a win looked to have evaporated when Cooper banged over another three-pointer. But Cruden got the kick the mattered as the final hooter blew.
The victory was all the more memorable for Hurricanes captain Andrew Hore, who was celebrating his 100th Super Rugby game, as it was achieved without their star backs Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane who were all injured.
“We'd sort of been written off and we came out and played some good footy. When you look at the backline we finished off with, I think Hosea Gear had twice as many caps as the rest of them put together,” an elated Hore said after the match.
“Obviously we're pretty pleased with that effort. To get back from South Africa and play the top side on the table and tip them over is obviously pretty special.”
The Hurricanes host new competition leaders the Blues next week, while the Reds head to Melbourne to play the Rebels.
Tries: Levave, Cruden, Taylor, Tialata
Pens: Cruden 2
Tries: Higginbotham, Morahan 2
Pens: Cooper 3
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Jayden Hayward, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (capt), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Julian Savea, 22 Beauden Barrett.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Kimami Sitauti.
Referee: Keith Brown (New Zealand)