The Hurricanes are back on level pegging with the Chiefs.
Their predictable bonus point win on a cold capital night means they are now on 43 competition points in the battle for second place in the New Zealand conference. Few, other than diehard Cheetahs fans, would have believed in anything other than a positive Hurricanes result, their 12th straight at home.
The pre-match talking points played out with no great drama.
Beauden Barrett made a good fist of his old position, fullback, in which he had not started for the Hurricanes in more than four years. And, in a sight to gladden the hearts of the All Blacks selectors, he took the goalkicking duties ahead of Otere Black and slotted 100 percent.
He scarcely touched the ball in the opening 10 minutes, and was subbed at 50 minutes by his brother, but that five from five off the tee was enough to surpass Andrew Mehrtens and move into fourth place on the all-time Super Rugby points scorers list. Barrett now sits on 992 points.
Black himself was tidiness personified at pivot and assumed the kicking once Barrett had departed.
The Hurricanes set-piece was altogether slicker than it was against the Crusaders. Reed Prinsep, Brad Shields and Vaea Fifita were regular lineout targets, while the scrum was solid. The Cheetahs vaunted attacking lineout drive never got going.
Ardie Savea was busy, though the gaps did not always open for him, but he did score a try off a drive set up by hooker Ricky Riccitelli.
Vince Aso ran in three tries, taking him to 13 for the season, the second and third set up by Ngani Laumape, who has 11. This midfield combination continues to offer real impetus for the Hurricanes attack and they will slice up any defensive line that gets lazy or crooked, a la the Cheetahs in the second spell. Aso’s dabbing style was thrice out in full force.
The Cheetahs’ rush defence worked well for about 15 minutes before a bizarre chain of events allowed Vaea Fifita to score an opportunist try from a Cheetahs 22m restart. Thereafter there was always the feeling that the Hurricanes would cut loose, especially with possession and territory stats well in their favour. Ben Lam’s try, which had its genesis 85m out, was the embodiment of this strikepower.
One of the pleasing aspects of the second spell was the Super Rugby debut of Hawke’s Bay loose forward Hugh Renton, who has dreamed of this moment for more than two years as he overcame injury.
There was a moment’s silence before the match to remember Wellington club colts player Daniel Baldwin, who tragically died during the week after being injured playing his sport.
The Hurricanes will now wing their way to South Africa, where they face the Bulls in Pretoria in the early hours of next Sunday morning.
HURRICANES – 61
Tries: Vaea Fifita (16),Vince Aso (19,46,61),Ardie Savea(38),TJ Perenara(45),Jeff Toomaga-Allen(56),Ben Lam (70),Leni Apisai (74)
Cons: Beauden Barrett (17,20,40,45,48) , Otere Black (57,62,71)
CHEETAHS – 07
Tries: Fred Zeilinga(24)
Cons: Fred Zeilinga(25)
Hurricanes: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Mike Kainga, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Jordie Barrett, 23 Ben Lam
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandré Huggett, 1 Ox Nché
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ruan van Rensburg
Date: Saturday, May 20
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Ben Skeen