The Hurricanes sealed their first Super Rugby title on Saturday as they got the better of the Lions 20-3 in a cold and wet Wellington.
It wasn’t pretty but finals seldom are, especially in the wind and rain at Westpac Stadium, but the ‘Canes would have taken a 3-0 victory.
They did score two tries, from Cory Jane and Beauden Barrett, with the latter also landing 10 points off the tee to Elton Jantjies’ three.
Take nothing away from the Lions though who have been superb in 2016 and will take a good deal of positives into Super Rugby 2017.
But this was the Hurricanes’ season as the pain of two lost finals was laid to rest as Chris Boyd and his charges celebrate a title triumph.
Boosted by captain Dane Coles passing a fitness test, the Hurricanes were looking to make it third time lucky in Super Rugby finals.
Conditions were always going to affect scoring chances in Wellington and it was no surprise to see just one try scored in the first-half. That try went the way of wing Jane on 22 minutes, who was earlier denied a score for a Brad Shields knock-on that was spotted by the TMO.
A cold snap hit New Zealand on Saturday and many believed it would favour the Hurricanes, who had put the Sharks away in similar weather conditions in the quarter-finals. But this is a Lions side ahead of its South African rivals and they were always going to pose a threat.
The visitors had an opportunity to take the lead on four minutes when Vaea Fifita was caught offside. Fly-half Jantjies though seemed to be put off by the ball falling off the tee as a rushed penalty attempt from 45 metres into the wind fell short and the game remained at 0-0.
His opposite number, Barrett, has shown on several occasions that he can master tough conditions and he looked to have set up wing Jane for the opening try two minutes later. However, an earlier knock-on from Shield saw that crossing chalked off in a finely balanced start.
Barrett did get the Hurricanes on the board three minutes later as lock Andries Ferreira was caught offside and what was also impressive from the hosts was their physical defence, which stopped the Lions at source. Shields in particular was making an impact that soon paid off.
Indeed, that high pressure defence resulted in Jane’s try as the Lions were forced to move the ball away from contact in their 22 and that led to centre Lionel Mapoe’s rushed clearance, which was well held by Jane before he went over from ten metres out. Barrett made it 10-0.
The Lions did cut the margin to seven points when the Hurricanes were caught offside, Jantjies doing the rest from in front on 26 minutes. And 10-3 was how it remained until the break with neither side dominating the scrum, an area the Lions would’ve been targeting all week.
A setback did hit the Hurricanes five minutes into the second half when Coles left the match feeling his rib injury, with Ricky Riccitelli coming on in his place. His departure was cushioned by the sight of Barrett firing over three points from distance after another offside.
At 13-3 with the hour mark approaching, a vital period of the game had arrived and with the Hurricanes having been outstanding defensively in recent games, the Lions needed to pull something special from their box of tricks. Handling errors however were thwarting their efforts.
Unfortunately for their hopes, mistakes weren’t isolated to ball in hand as Jantjies was wayward off the tee on 64 minutes when looking to narrow the gap to one score. One feared that may have been a defining moment in the final as the Hurricanes looked to make them pay.
That they did five minutes later when a mistake involving replacement Ross Cronje from a stolen line-out saw the Lions end up inside their own 22, with Barrett showing his speed to pounce before converting his try. That made it 20-3, with the Hurricanes closing on the title.
In all honesty the game was over as a contest at that point and the Hurricanes duly held on in a calm manner to claim their first title, which makes it a clean sweep of five winners in Super Rugby for New Zealand franchises.
Tries: Jane, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 2
Pens: Barrett 2
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Loni Uhila
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Julian Savea
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf De Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Ruan Ackermann, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt
Date: Saturday, August 6
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)