The Hurricanes put on a dominating display in Christchurch to defeat the Crusaders 35-10, moving to the top of the table in the process.
The win sees the Hurricanes move, provisionally, to the top of the overall table ahead of the Lions. More importantly they top the New Zealand Conference on 53 points, with their final position to be decided following the other Kiwi derby between the Chiefs and the Highlanders later on.
Only the New Zealand Conference leader is assured a home quarter-final, giving the Hurricanes a nervous wait. They have more than done their part through with a superb win in Christchurch.
A tense opening half was capped off by a late try by TJ Perenara, which gave the lead and the momentum to the Hurricanes who had lived off the scraps. However, the Crusaders failed to capitalise on the set-piece dominance in the second half as the visitors made the most of each opportunity to earn a stunning win.
Gorgeous early evening conditions in Christchurch saw the Crusaders get things underway in front of a sea of red and black.
The home side dominated the first scrum of the match, leading to a penalty which gave Richie Mo’unga a chance to open the scoring, but his forty metre attempt was wide.
There was plenty movement early on, with both teams showing a willingness to run with the ball and showing great passages of continuity.
Hurricanes lock Vaea Fifita would get over the line in the ninth minute after an attacking lineout ten metres out, but TMO Chris Wratt deemed him to held up.
But the following five metre scrum lead to several short runs by the forwards, before it was sent wide. Beauden Barrett would take the ball right to the defensive line and deliver a perfect pass to a flying Jason Woodward, who dotted down under the poles virtually untouched.
The Crusaders best try-scoring chance of the opening stanza came after James Marshall was penalised for a high tackle on Nemani Nadolo in midfield. Mo’unga set up a line-out on the 22 and the Crusaders took the ball through nearly 20 phases but the visitors defence was resolute, eventually forcing a knock on.
It took the Crusaders 24 minutes to get on the board, which they did via the boot of Mo’unga to make it 3-7.
Five minutes later, the Crusaders would get their only try of the night after a bizarre sequence of play.
Having just thwarted an attack metres from their line, the Hurricanes took a suicidal quick lineout. It looked like they would get out of trouble as the ball moved through the hands across the field but Kieran Reed pounced on the first ruck and dislodged the ball. Johnny McNicholl snapped it up and danced down the touchline before handing it to Ryan Crotty for the try.
Minutes before half-time, a chip through from the Hurricanes backline put McNichol under serious pressure and a big tackle from Julian Savea pushed him over the try line.
However, the Crusaders scrum got them out of jail with another scrum penalty win.
The visitors struck once more before the break thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from scrum-half Perenara. Mitchell Drummond, who was a late replacement for Andy Ellis, got his kick charged down on the 22m line. Mo’unga looked to have it covered but the bounce of the ball evaded him and Perenara took full advantage.
As a result, the Hurricanes took a 10-14 lead into the second half.
There were nervous opening moments in the second, with both Israel Dagg and Julian Savea making basic handling errors. In Dagg’s case, a slick backline move had come off for the Crusaders and the tryline was begging… and all he had to do was draw and pass, but he fumbled it.
Savea would have another chance just two minutes later after another superb build up from the Hurricanes. Perenara’s pass on the line could have been better, but Savea just needed to grab it and tumble over the line.
Willis Halaholo would score the first points of the second half in the 55th minute. After another good build up, Barrett sent a looping pass to the centre in the midfield, who was flat footed but bounced off Matt Todd who went into contact too high, and he skipped under the poles. Barrett converted for a 10-21 lead.
Fifita gave Reed a sarcastic congratulatory shove afterwards which led to an enormous dust-up, with the referee deemed as nothing but handbags after several replays.
A frustrated Crusaders spent most of the rest of the game pinned in their half making tackle after tackle as an impressive Hurricanes side ran riot.
The pressure finally told when a strong burst up the middle from replacement Callum Gibbins gave the Hurricanes the bonus point.
Barrett rubbed more salt into the wounds with a late opportunistic try to put the icing on the cake of of a sterling performance by the men from Wellington.
Tries: Woodward, Perenara, Halaholo, Gibbins, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 3
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka , 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Kieron Fonotia
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Chris Eves, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Wes Goosen, 23 Jason Woodward
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand