The Hurricanes kept up their challenge for a place in the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs with a 25-15 win over the Rebels in Melbourne that was more emphatic than that scoreline might suggest it was.
The visitors were all over the Rebels for most of the game, but for once the Hurricanes were unable to make maximum use of their attacking opportunities as the Rebels’ defence held firm under severe pressure. However the pressure the Hurricanes forced with ball in hand translated into penalty attempts for flyhalf Beauden Barrett, and he kicked six of them and a conversion for a personal haul of 20 points.
The All Black was also instrumental in setting up the only Hurricanes’ try, which came in the 58th minute after a prolonged period of sustained attacking where, for the first time, Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith started to eschew kickable attempts in favour of setting up better attacking platforms.
Barrett, receiving the ball just outside the 22 as the Hurricanes systematically broke down the Rebels defence, kicked the ball across the Rebels to Cory Jane, and the wing was able to flip it up for his captain to score as he was tackled on the Rebels’ line.
The Hurricanes enjoyed a surfeit of possession in the first half, and committed the Rebels into making twice as many tackles as they did. The Melbourne side was just hanging in for most of the way, so they did well to go to the break just 12-10 down.
That scoreline didn’t look likely when after 16 minutes the Hurricanes were already 9-0 up through three Barrett penalties. But the Rebels struck back with a penalty through Jason Woodward and then they scored an excellent try that with the conversion gave them the lead just under 10 minutes from half-time.
Flyhalf Bryce Hegarty set up the try with his good pass to Jason Woodward who moved outside the defender before putting in a kick ahead that was probably meant for himself but instead bounced into the hands of Hegarty who ran the ball in. Woodward’s conversion was on target to put the Rebels ahead for the first time at 10-9, but he was unable to add to that tally on the stroke of half-time with a ridiculously long attempt that fell short.
Had the Rebels succeeded with the kick they would have gone back into the lead, which Barrett had reclaimed for the Hurricanes shortly before that. If the Hurricanes were uncomfortable at being just 12-10 up at half-time they started to breathe easier immediately after the break as Barrett added a further penalty to make it 15-10 in the 42nd minute and then spent the next 20 minutes camped in Rebels territory.
Barrett hit the posts with a penalty attempt that would have put them more than a score ahead again, and then pushed one to the right before finally succeeding with one from right in front. Then came the Hegarty try and with a quarter of the game to go the Hurricanes were 25-10 up.
You would have backed them at that point to win by a big margin but credit must go to the Rebels for the passion they put into their attempt to close the gap again. They were helped by the sinbinning of Conrad Smith in the 67th minute but took a bit long to get across the line during a prolonged period of pressure that eventually put Tamati Ellison in five minutes after Smith had left the field.
It was all the Rebels in the last minutes but their statement came too late in the game for it to impact on the result and the Hurricanes duly ensured they rebounded from their defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney the previous week with a deserved win that maintains the pressure in the New Zealand conference.
Rebels - Tries: Bryce Hegarty, Tamati Ellison. Conversion: Jason Woodward. Penalty: Jason Woodward
Hurricanes - Try: Conrad Smith. Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Beauden Barrett (6)