The Hurricanes handed the Crusaders their first defeat of the season when they claimed a 31-22 win over the table-toppers in Wellington on Saturday.
In a topsy-turvy encounter in which the lead changed hands on several occasions, the Hurricanes eventually got the rub of the green and outscored their opponents four tries to three.
The result means the Crusaders will have to wait for the outcome of the Lions’ match against the Sharks in Durban later on Saturday to see if they will hold onto top spot in the standings.
The Hurricanes were dealt a double blow shortly before kick off when Beauden Barrett and Vince Aso withdrew through illness injury respectively.
This saw Otere Black coming into their starting line-up at fly-half with Jordie Barrett switching from full-back to outside centre and Nehe Milner-Skudder moving from the right wing to wear the number 15 jersey while Wes Goosen took his place out wide.
The Crusaders made a bright start and opened the scoring as early as the third minute as Jordan Taufua and Scott Barrett traded passes before Richie Mo’unga threw a long pass to Seta Tamanivalu who dotted down in the right-hand corner.
The seven-time champions continued to hold the upper hand during the early exchanges and extended their lead in the 14th minute when Kieran Read offloaded to Tamanivalu who cantered over for his second try.
The Hurricanes soaked up that early pressure and although the Crusaders continued to dominate, they could not score more during the half. In fact, it was the Hurricanes who scored next when Barrett opened their account after running onto a pass from Black inside the visitors’ 22.
Barrett added the extras, which meant the Crusaders led 12-7 at the interval but the Hurricanes were fastest out of the blocks after the restart when Julian Savea scored their second try in the 45th minute.
This after he knocked back a crossfield kick from Black deep inside the visitors’ 22 before regathering the ball and crossing the whitewash.
The Crusaders regained the lead when Mo’unga landed a penalty three minutes later and pushed further ahead in the 55th minute thanks to a brilliant try from Israel Dagg.
This, after he ran onto a pass from Read off the back of a scrum on the Hurricanes’ five-metre line and Dagg did brilliantly to beat Barrett with a deft side-step before diving over.
That would be the last time the visitors would score points, however, as the Hurricanes took control of proceedings in the final quarter.
First, Goosen crossed the whitewash on the hour-mark after combining with TJ Perenara deep inside the Crusaders’ 22 and Barrett’s conversion kick meant the match was on a knife edge with the men from Christchurch leading 22-21.
The Hurricanes were back in front in the 65th minute when Ngani Laumape found Vaea Fifita in the clear with a well-timed pass inside the Crusaders’ 22 and the burly forward did well to round Tamanivalu before diving in at the right hand corner – Barrett adding the extras to give his side six-point lead with time running out on the clock.
The Crusaders were now chasing the game but the Hurricanes finished stronger and Barrett made sure there would be no losing bonus point for the visitors when he slotted a penalty in the 78th minute.
Tries: Barrett, J Savea, Goosen, Fifitia
Cons: Barrett 4
Tries: Tamanivalu 2, Dagg
Cons: Mo’unga 2
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Wes Goosen, 23 Cory Jane
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Sean Wainui
Date: Saturday, July 15
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey
TMO: Glenn Newman