#HurricaneWatch: Hurricanes and Blues Bring the Pain

There’s no such thing as ‘Just a preseason game’ in any sport. The level of support evident at todays Wellington Hurricanes game, taking on the mighty Auckland Blues, certainly showed that to be true. Crowds steadily started arriving over two hours before the main event to take in the spectacle, and Wairarapa Bush FC turned on a great family event.

While the big names of Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and so forth may have been missing from the team it would be foolish in the extreme to consider the team that took the field in todays game a B squad. If anything these guys probably played harder, knowing that if you prove yourself in the pre season there is a good chance you’ll get to step up to the main game. Not to mention playing in front of rugby royalty in Sir Colin Meads, and having Piri Weepu sideline with the Blues bench.

Let’s also remember Tim Bateman captained the Maori All Blacks team who took on Canada and the USA, Ardie Savea is hardly lacking in skill, and Callum Gibbins (as previously profiled) is widely regarded by his Manawatu Turbo’s team mates as having one of the strongest work ethics on the field.

Many of the fans – around 6000 turning up to a sell out Memorial Park – today had turned up for one name, new Blues number 10 Benji Marshall. They were not disappointed as Marshall inserted himself into the game early, providing a strong running game which was matched by great passing and great presence of mind on the field. This didn’t stop him being demolished on more than one occasion in tackles by a hungry Hurricanes pack.

The Hurricanes gave their fans a lot to cheer about early in the first quarter – the game being divided into four quarters for this match rather than the traditional two halves – and early possession was quickly converted into early points.  A stand out run by new recruit Marty Banks, who easily covered 70 meters to dot down, brought the mass of yellow and black fans to their feet.

However the Blues are never a side to sit back idly and watch, the second quarter was all Blue, as mistakes by the Hurricanes and good possession by the Blues saw them eat up field position and dominate the attack. Three tries in quick succession left the visiting side well in control by the end of the first half, although the 21 – 19 score board only just favoured the Blues.

Both sides played a full 80 minutes and at no point did either side look to quit. The Hurricanes made a few silly positional mistakes in the second and third quarters, allowing the Blues to get away to a considerable lead. However strong pressure in the fourth quarter, coupled with some great running by Ardie Savea, saw the Canes back into the game .

Marshall was absent from the field in the second half, coach Sir John Kirwan indicating earlier in the week he only saw Benji getting field time the first half. Credit where it’s due, when on the field Marshall was a dominant force and a real play maker. He has certainly set himself in good stead for the season, and I think he’s only going to get better.

Both coaches have a lot to proud of from their respective teams. Strong running games, forceful tackles and great field position made it such that the game could have gone either way on more than one occasion. One of the only areas that the teams seemed to struggle with was the kicking game, particularly when kicking for touch. The Blues punted the ball out on the full, or simply spun it around in mid air for virtually no net gain more than once. The Hurricanes similarly failed to find touch at crucial moments, and gave up field position all too often due to breakdowns in their lines.

There is a lot of talent on both sides of the field, and games like this really allow the younger players, or the less experienced players, the chance to shine. And shine they did! This was an amazing atmosphere, and a great curtain raiser for the season. Masterton has a lot to be proud of, they turned on a great family spectacle, which was welcoming and just flat out good fun.

Add to this two team who appeared to be treating this like a regular season game, rather than a pre season, and you had something memorable at the very least. Both the Hurricanes and the Blues teams threw everything they had at one another, and left nothing on the bench. The final result 38 – 35 shows just how hungry both teams were for a win. Both were evenly matched, and both played good, solid, old school rugby.

The Hurricanes now prepare to head across to Geelong to take on the Melbourne Rebels in their second pre season outing. The Rebels are a side on the rise, and will have a lot to prove next weekend I’m sure. The Blues will also want to regroup and come out strong in their next game against

One thing is for sure. If this is what the Hurricanes and Blue bring to a pre season, March 7 when the Hurricanes are at home to the Brumbies in their first regular season game is going to be incredible. Keep it locked to #HurricaneWatch for more news, reviews and interviews and follow the Super Rugby season here and the Hurricanes here.

 All Photo Credits: Kyle Willoughby