Epic Easter Battle at Eden Park

Super Rugby Rd 8 - Blues v Hurricanes
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The night was perfectly set, with a long weekend and clearing weather, fans arrived with a good proportion dressed in yellow. And they weren’t disappointed. There was an ‘epic Easter battle at Eden Park’ with both sides contributing.

In another tight-tussle of a local New Zealand derby match, the scores were traded, the visitors only holding a slight advantage at half time 14-21. That heightened in the following 40 minutes, with a swing towards the hosts. It was tantalizingly close, until a magical recovery saw the Hurricanes take the match result.

Blues 24 – Tries: Augustine Pulu, Melani Nanai, Scott Scrafton; Conversions: Piers Francis (2), Bryn Gatland; Penalties: Gatland

Hurricanes 28 – Tries: Mark Abbott (2), Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett; Cons: Jordie Barrett (4)

The super-intensity was a factor in making this match one to enjoy. As it was last week in Dunedin, the close nature of these matches show the high skill levels and competitive nature of the game in New Zealand. Even with the changing future of the competition structure now set for 2018, nothing can hide the fact it is super tough rugby. Both coaches acknowledged as much.

“We knew it was gonna be a hell of a contest.”

“And the management were a bit nervous this week, as we know the Blues are full of good players. It could have gone either way,” was the summary by Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd.

Hurricanes Weary of Blues Match Winners

He was truthful in his understanding that the Blues have match winners. And many were on show tonight. Matt Duffie a handful, Charlie Faumuina a damaging runner and especially visible tonight, Steven Luatua. Returning from his suspension, Luatua (see below picture) was instrumental.

Steven Luatua of the Blues makes a break during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park on April 15, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

His numerous line breaks over the first half highlighted the talented flankers ability–even when Tana Umaga stated he had only trained on the morning of the match. A toe injury halting his footwork, but on the field he ran hard and took good lineout ball.

“Well, he was well rested,” was the jokeful comment from Umaga, but his group had issues with fitness. They had also had distraction, but Umaga would not be drawn on that topic. “You saw what Sonny can bring [the breaks] but we also saw the rustiness. He hasn’t played footy for eight months. Possibly not XV’s for well over a year, but he’s only gonna get better with game time;” – eluding the subject of any sponsorship or conscientious objection.

Biggest Threat on Field Were Both Barretts

The Blues threw everything at the the ‘Canes tryline at times. And for this game, it came off. The Blues had a history of not scoring in the second half of local derby games, but when Luatua gave them territory, and that was converted, they disproved that theory. A special effort, to gain a points advantage of 24-21 in the final quarter..

But the tit-for-tat nature of the match only took some brilliance from the visitors to show their higher placing on the table. And whenever the ‘Canes needed a man to lead the way, there was a Barrett on hand. Either one or the other, as Beauden was brilliant (even while earning his third yellow card in two games) while Jordie had several sensational touches.

Tana Umaga commented that his former team mate Kevin Barrett would bring his kids to training. “I remember him [Beauden] running around with his brothers, and I remember his father was very skill-less, so it all came from his Mum”. That jibe notwithstanding, he acknowledged that Beauden is the best player in the world.

“Hes tough, has good vision and his confidence has grown, ability to bring the ball from deep, just a complete package.”

Match Won in the Final Ten Minutes

The winning of the game came in the 73rd minute. On several occasions tonight, an offensive-defensive tackle counted. And the biggest of the night belonged to Reed Prinsep. His colossal effort in defense  broke loose the ball that eventually led to the second try for Mark Abbott. And in the lead-up, Beauden again showed the superior foot speed and vision.

Putting his team further up the field, after several breakdowns, it was his brother who barged into the ruck to clear the way. That opened a channel down the blindside. Locks shouldn’t still be running so hard after 70 minutes, but the warrior that is Abbott (see below picture), he did the job. He charged over for the game winning try. Full credit.

Mark Abbott of the Hurricanes runs in to score a try during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Hurricanes. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

“We struggled sometimes with the physicality. They had a lot of game breakers, their offloading game was strong, they challenged us both offensive and defensively” and when asked about try scorer Abbott, he was glowing. “He’s one of those unfashionable, too-small-to-be-a-lock type guys but he’s got a massive heart and a massive workrate. He’s taken a lot of responsibility in the tight five, to lead them and he’s done a particularly good job at it.” Two tries and a ‘Man of the Match’ performance proved that.

The Canes had to chase a lead, something in fact that coach Chris Boyd found hard to recall the last time his men had to do that.

“We’re delighted to have scooped four points & keep marching on.”

Crowd Entertained by Top Class Rugby, and Fred Dagg Singalong

That final try gave the Hurricanes back the lead, and even with the cries of the 24,000 strong crowd with them, try as they might the Blues fell to another close local derby loss. This adds to the worries for head coach Tana Umaga, and he was conciliatory in his remarks post-game. “We’ve improved from our second half effort last week, I think it was just some brilliance that undid us. And that is what is so good about this game, and so good about rugby in this country.”

He will take his team into the break with many things to work on. While the poor away record and inability to win the tight matches, the bye will them heal some wounds and rest players. They then play right through to the International match against the British and Irish Lions, so Umaga will want to iron out his sides faults before then.

But the crowd were entertained. The high numbers were due to the opponents; with possibly 35% of spectators wearing yellow, and the atmosphere. A mexican wave did distract from the action, but the biggest cheer of the night was for a certain Fred Dagg tune. “If it weren’t for your gumboots, where would you be” which lead to a chorus of singing. Only in New Zealand!

So on a holiday weekend, where families had so many choices in entertainment, those that arrived at Eden Park all left knowing they had enjoyed a real game. Not as many tries as the Crusaders match, and not the high scores that the Hurricanes are so used to, but hard, tough football. And that is what most Super Rugby fans appreciate too, when watching a match like tonight’s.

Well played Hurricanes.

“Main photo credit”