The Hurricanes have rounded out their preseason series with a solid performance that had scenes of greatness, but lacked in enough consistency to get them over the line.
Levin Domain turned on less than ideal conditions with a strong, swirling wind and threatening clouds. That however did little to dampen the vocal Horowhenua crowd, most of whom turned out to see one man, the ground resonated to cries of ‘Hi Richie” as All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw started from the sidelines in the number 20 jersey, turning the reins of the game over to Ryan Crotty. Crotty for his part stepped up well, leading his team with wisdom and intelligence, guiding the plays like a veteran.
#HurricaneWatch: Hurricanes Come Up Short in Last Preseason Run
The Hurricanes started the game well, with dominant if undisciplined play to drive the ball forward quickly. Israel Dagg inserted himself into the game early, kicking the ball into touch. Although from the sidelines the kick looked good, Dagg seemed less than impressed, grimacing as the ball crossed the line. The Crusaders exerted a lot of early pressure, and penalties led to plenty of solid scrum feeds from nth side.
The first sign of brilliance came from a deft intercept by Beauden Barrett, who darted through to score the first points of the game. Barrett’s kicking game seemed lacking tonight though, missing all of his conversion attempts.
Marty Banks made an uncharacteristic error around ten minutes into the game, giving possession away after a strong drive looked sure to be leading towards a try, but the Hurricanes did show a real willingness to move the ball. Much of the first quarter was spent in Crusaders territory, with plenty of opportunities. However the Hurricanes needed to keep the ball in hand in order to capitalise, mistakes with passing proving costly.
By far one of the standouts from the Crusaders camp was Johnny McNicholl, in his sophomore year with the franchise. A beautiful intercept by McNicholl right on the Hurricanes 22 saw McNicholl slice through a flat defence to open the Crusaders scoring account, with Tom Taylor assuming the kicking duties with almost laser point accuracy.
Wyatt Crockett was unlucky to be sin binned midway through the first half after an tackle went awry, however the Crusaders still managed to maintain good forward momentum, even after Marty Banks slipped through for the second of the Hurricanes three unconverted tries, the third coming from Ben Franks driving the ball over in his usual juggernaut fashion.
Colin Slade came off after 30 minutes, taking to the sideline and limping out after the half time break, again though Slade’s absence did little to slow the Crusaders attack, McNicholl crossing the line for the second time to put the Crusaders within three points, Taylor converting almost from the grandstand with seeming effortlessness. At the half the Hurricanes lead 15 – 14, and looked set to back up a solid first half performance.
The second half however brought out a reinvigorated Crusaders team, McCaw taking to the field and the Crusaders putting the foot down. Jack Lam let the ball go loose at one point, costing the Hurricanes vital possession. McNicholl, in a stellar performance, added a third try to his haul, and the Crusaders discipline really started to tell.
Jordan Tafua and Will Heinz added to an already healthy Crusaders lead, all of which were converted by Tyler Bleyendaal, the Crusaders romping home 40 – 15.
The Hurricanes did show some signs of potential, and they did put in a solid performance, the Crusaders were just too strong on the day and they deserved the win.
I caught up with Cory Jane after the game to get his thoughts on the game “The first half was good, we were up at half time but the second half was a bit rough. They had all the ball but we saw some good things from us. There’s plenty to work on, the season starts next week and it’s only the preseason so we can’t really get a gauge until the season really starts. There’s a few things to work on but it was impressive.”
The Hurricanes were lacking some key playmakers with injury. Victor Vito, Tim Bateman and Brad Shields are all sidelined for extended periods, I asked Cory how this impacted the team “Injuries are going to be tough, we had a couple of guys go down a couple of days ago in key positions, but that’s rugby. It’s a contact sport, you’re going to get injuries. It’s up to the guys that have been around for a while to keep the skill level and the physicality high, and it’s up to the young guys coming through to follow suit. Injuries happen, it just is what is it is.”
Looking at the impact the weather had on the game, with kicks being pushed off target on more than one occasion, Cory said “It was a little bit windy but again you’re going to have to deal with that. You’re not always going to be playing under roofs all the time. It would have been nice to have a beautiful sunny day, but then you’d want to pick that every day, eery time you play. You just have to play to conditions.”
Cory also touched on the big news of the day, with New Zealand Rugby confirming Jane and his Crusaders colleagues Dagg and Luke Romano had all signed back on, Jane and Dagg until 2017 and Romano to 2016. “It’s good. It was a tough decision to make, but at the end of the day I made it, and moving forward I have a goal to first of all play well in this Super Rugby season and then try to make the All Blacks. It’s all signed, done and dusted so now it’s time to work.”
The Hurricanes have had finished up the pre season with a solid win over the Blues, a well contested loss against the Rebels and a determined performance against the Crusaders. They will definitely take a lot of learning from their last three games into their first Super Rugby regular season round in the Shark Tank in Durban on February 23rd. Going up against the Sharks is always a tough ask, especially in South Africa, the Hurricanes though do have the skill to do it if they can get their discipline and game plan together.
Keep up to date with all the Hurricanes events here on their twitter feed, and here on their website. The Super Rugby season is set to get off to a huge start, and Last Word on Sport will be ready to bring it all to you.