The Hurricanes slipped into Super Rugby title contention by beating the Bulls 25-20 in their Round 8 clash in Napier, New Zealand, with fly-half Beauden Barrett passing 100 points for the season.
The Hurricanes had not beaten the Bulls since 2008.
Playing at home last Saturday (April 8), the inconsistent Hurricanes dominated all aspects of play, yet almost lost.
“We played a really good side that almost wrested it away from us,” Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said.
South Africa’s injury-hit Bulls will gain some confidence, knowing they almost won the away game, despite playing poorly.
Barrett’s good performance has international implications.
Chiefs Snatch Draw
The Chiefs and All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden will be out for eight weeks, after breaking his thumb in the Chiefs 44-all draw with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Barrett may be the perfect replacement if Cruden fails to heal well or find form.
The Cheetahs fly-half Johan Goosen kicked four conversions and five penalties, seemingly steering his side to victory over the current champions.
However, as they did last week against the Bulls, the Chiefs snatched a valuable draw from the rubble of almost-certain defeat. With time almost up, winger Tim Nanai-Williams scored a try that was converted by Cruden after the final siren had sounded.
On a roll: Force have self-belief
Meanwhile, the lowly Force travelled to Brisbane to defeat compatriots the Reds 32-29, winning four games in a row for the first time.
Force captain Matt Hodgson said confidence has been a factor. This was apparent when the Reds took the lead late in the game.
“In previous years we would have gone into our shell,” Hodgson said. “But the belief is there this year.”
He said the whole Force squad had melded into a seamless unit: “… we have a whole group that is playing football”.
Reds captain James Horwill said the Force had disrupted his side, particularly around contested ball.
“We were committing too many numbers at the breakdown, which didn’t allow us to attack with numbers,” Horwill said.
Sharks to Meet lowly Lions
The competition leaders, the Sharks from Durban, had a bye. They travel to play the struggling Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday April 12.
The Lions were thrashed at home 25-7 in Johannesburg last Saturday by the visiting Crusaders, who are the first NZ team to win in South Africa this year.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann said the Lions were “poor in the air, poor at ruck time … kicked poorly” and ignored the game plan.
Lions captain Warren Whiteley agreed, saying the players had failed to meet their own expectations. There were positives in defence and attack, but players had to “execute the game plan”.
Waratah back on track
Meanwhile, the Waratahs got their season back on track by beating the Stormers 11-22 in Cape Town. This Saturday they face the Force in Perth.
Michael Cheika took charge of the Waratahs after Michael Foley was sacked, ahead of moving to the Force. The Waratahs-Force clash will be under-pinned by the battle between the sacked Foley and the incumbent Cheika.
Foley, a former international hooker, has the no-name Force playing like a team; Cheika’s team of stars remains inconsistent.
Brumbies vs Reds: Round 9’s Best
The match of the round is also in Australia. The high-flying Brumbies play the Reds in Brisbane.
Last Saturday the Brumbies beat the bumbling Auckland Blues at home in Canberra 26-9. They lead the Australian conference.
International back Christian Lealiifano has returned from injury. Fellow Wallaby inside-back Pat McCabe scored two tries against the Blues, which is an indication of his excellent form.
Despite form, the Reds beat the Brumbies 27-17 when the sides met in February. The passionate Queensland fans will also help the Reds … but not enough.