Hurricanes 25-13 Chiefs
The Hurricanes underlined their championship credentials with a win that was rather more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
The match had barely begun when Hurricanes wing Ben Lam made a storming run down the left flank, only a desperate tackle from Chiefs fullback Charlie Ngatai preventing the try. Minutes later Lam was put into a gap by his centre Ngani Laumape who unloaded in a two-man tackle, and this time Lam had room to move and the pace and power to leave three defenders in his wake. Jordie Barrrett added the extras.
Penalties were traded by Chiefs 5/8 Damian McKenzie and Barrett before there was a lengthy delay when Chiefs prop Aidan Ross went down with what is now known to be a season-ending ankle injury. He joins recent All Black props Kane Hames (head injury) and Nepo Laulala (broken arm) on the sidelines which will test the Chiefs (and All Blacks) propping depth.
Hurricanes lock Vaea Fifita made a midfield bust shortly after the resumption and from the resultant ruck halfback Jamie Booth flung it wide in the general direction of a flying Jordie Barrett who was unable to catch it. Had he done so a try would likely have resulted.
Beauden Barrett sparked the next Hurricanes attack with an NFL-style quick lineout throw that found Lam who made good ground before feeding it to Jordie Barrett. Chiefs wing Solomon Alaimalo made a superb covering tackle to end the raid.
McKenzie missed a relatively easy penalty with five minutes remaining until half time, but made amends with time up to trim the Hurricanes lead to 10-6.
The first points of the second half weren’t long in coming, Beauden Barrett scooping up a loose ball then chip-kicking and winning the chase to the ball in the in-goal. Incredibly the cover defender he beat to the ball was lock Brodie Retallick who showed great speed for such a big man. Jordie Barrett converted for a 17-6 lead.
Almost from the restart Beauden Barrett put in another of his pinpoint kick-passes, Laumape beating his opposite Anton Lienert-Brown in the air and running it in. The conversion missed but at 22-6 the Chiefs were looking down the barrel.
The Chiefs had an opportunity to pull back some points when Ngatai made a good break but he chose to kick ahead instead of passing to Alaimalo who looked to have a clear run to the line and the chance went begging.
The Chiefs did score next, however, forward Lachlan Boshier scoring after good leadup work from McKenzie and Ngatai. Importantly the conversion was successful and the Chiefs now trailed by nine with 20 minutes remaining.
The Hurricanes are such a potent attacking side it’s often overlooked how good they are defensively and they gave a perfect demonstration of that in the final quarter, repelling a series of Chiefs attacks to snuff out any chance of a comeback. Jordie Barrett had the final say with a penalty awarded in the 80th minute but not kicked until the siren had sounded.
The Hurricanes are now top of the New Zealand Conference and overall while the Chiefs are third and fifth, respectively.
Sunwolves 10-24 Blues
It took a while but the Blues overcame a spirited Sunwolves side with three second half tries to record their second win of the season.
A repeat of last year’s disastrous visit looked on the cards early on, the hosts kicking out to a 10-0 lead from a Yu Tamura penalty after lock Patrick Tuipulotu was sin-binned in just the third minute, and a fine try to Timothy Lafaele.
Blues 5/8 Stephen Perofeta set his wing Jordan Hyland away with a lovely long ball in the 28th minute, Hyland beating two defenders to dot down. The Blues had the better of the remaining first half but were unable to add to their tally and trailed 5-10 at the break.
Blues No. 8 Akira Ioane scored a typically rampaging try 10 minutes into the second half, shrugging off a defender and stepping another on his way to the line. Perofeta’s conversion had the Blues in front for the first time in the match.
Replacement Dalton Papali’i scored an even more startling try three minutes later, beating five would-be tacklers on his way to the line. Hyland completed the scoring inside the final five minutes, latching onto a wobbly Reiko Ioane offload to dive over.
The Blues reman last in the New Zealand Conference but will feel they’ve buried the ghost of last year, and perhaps of Eden Park two weeks ago. The winless Sunwolves remain last in the Australian Conference and in the overall standings.
Sharks 10-40 Bulls
The Sharks return from a month in Australasia wasn’t a happy one, badly beaten in the wet in Durban, their sixth successive loss to the Bulls.
In the corresponding fixture last year Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant scored a hat-trick, and he did so again as the visitors ran in five plus were awarded a penalty try early in the second half.
Adrian Strauss celebrated his 150th Bulls cap with a first half try, Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen replying, but that was as good as it got for the Sharks who trailed 10-21 at the break and never recovered from the 45th-minute penalty try and consequent sin-binning of prop Thomas du Toit.
The Bulls and Sharks are now level on 14 points but the Bulls have a game in hand and are in eighth overall by virtue of a less-worse points differential (-10 compared to the Sharks -26). The Lions remain runaway leaders of the South African Conference.
Week 10 fixtures (times are AEST):
Blues v Highlanders 17:35 Friday
Crusaders v Sunwolves 17:35 Saturday
Sharks v Stormers 1:15 Sunday