The Hurricanes have got away with one.
It took a try five minutes from fulltime to debutant Du’Plessis Kirifi for them to overcome a stuttering performance and grab a 20-19 win over the Waratahs at Brookvale Oval, north of Sydney, on Saturday night.
Waratahs first-five Bernard Foley also played a part, sticking a penalty kick at goal from right out in front 30 metres out wide of the posts with two minutes to go after his pack had won a scrum penalty.
“I was just saying ‘please pull it bro’. The chances of him missing that were slim, he’s such a classy goal-kicker. I was just hoping that was the one in a 100 that he would miss.”That ill-timed scrum penalty belied what was a decent performance from the Hurricanes’ pack. They had won four scrum penalties to none up until that point and their lineout overcame two lost lineouts early on before winning their next 14 on the trot.
Matt Proctor was a late scratching with a virus, with Vince Aso shifting to 13 from right wing, Wes Goosen starting in the 14 jersey and Proctor’s younger brother, Billy, coming onto the bench.
Referee Angus Gardner’s whistle dominated much of the match, including in the first half as 14 penalties were evenly shared between the two sides. Both sides pushed the envelope with their defensive line speed, but Gardner was quick to blow any infringement at ruck time, leading to a stuttering first 40 minutes.
The visitors received two warnings from Gardner in the first 18 minutes after conceding six of their seven penalties in that time.
They didn’t concede another penalty for another 19 minutes, but Waratahs first-five Bernard Foley took all his chances, slotting four penalties as the home side led 12-10 at halftime.
Having spent the first 30 minutes camped in their own half, the Hurricanes finally got some ball and field position, which they turned seven points when Ardie Savea muscled his way over under the posts from close range in the 36th minute following 11 phases in and around the Waratahs’ five-metre line.
The Waratahs got their first try just three minutes into the second half. The Hurricanes rush defence broke down, allowing Israel Folau to scoot away down the left flank before he passed to Curtis Rona to score in the corner.
Hurricanes coach John Plumtree went to his bench soon after to add the experience of captain Dane Coles to the field. James Marshall made his Hurricanes return a short time later, replacing Fletcher Smith at first-five. The youngster made a nervy debut for the team, but wasn’t helped by the pressure his team was under in the first half.
Marshall’s return lasted five minutes before he picked up what looked like a serious shoulder injury. The Hurricanes opted to bring halfback Finlay Christie on, pushing starting halfback TJ Perenara to first-five. Perenara then dropped his first pass at first receiver.
The game had again stagnated midway through the half, but Jordie Barrett peeled off 65m with a kick following a penalty in the 65th minute, giving the Hurricanes a lineout 20m out from the Waratahs’ line.
Immediately following that, Savea crossed the line for what would have been his second try, but it was called back after Gardner reviewed a replay of substitute Kirifi delivering a forearm to the throat of the Waratahs’ Michael Hooper as he aided Savea’s pick-and-go.
Hurricanes winger Ben Lam went close to scoring four minutes later when bumping off three defenders down the left wing, but put his hand in touch before he grounded the ball.
The Hurricanes kept the pressure on the Waratahs’ line and Kirifi made up for his error by busting out of a rolling maul to thunder over for a try five minutes from fulltime.
Barrett showed a cool head to nail the conversion from wide out to put his side up by one with four minutes to play.
Foley then missed, but there were a few more nervy moments as Gardner found two more penalties against them to force them to defend deep in their own half, but a lost Waratahs lineout allowed the Hurricanes to escape with the win.
The penalties conceded count ended 14-12 to the Waratahs.
Perenara said he was pleased with the opportunities his side created, but not with their execution.
“We came up against a tough Tahs team. We put ourselves under pressure for a lot of the game, we had a lot of opportunities we didn’t take tonight.
“We did get there in the end. We should have capitalised a bit earlier, but we were down their end of the half for a lot of the second half.”
Final Score Waratahs 19 (12) Hurricanes 20 (10)
Tries – C.Rona
Pen – B.Foley 4
Con – B.Foley
Tries – A.Savea, D. Kirifi
Pen – J.Barrett 2
Con – F.Smith, J.Barrett
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 1:Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 2:Damon Murphy
TMO : James Leckie
15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Lachlan Swinton, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Cam Clark
15 Jordie Barrett, 14. Wes Goosen , 13 Vince Aso , 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Fletcher Smith, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Liam Mitchell, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves
Replacements : 16 Dane Coles, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Ben May, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Billy Proctor