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Bailyn Sullivan's impressive midfield showing creates puzzle for Hurricanes

By Tom Vinicombe
Bailyn Sullivan. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Most of the talk in the lead-up to the Hurricanes’ match with the Blues focussed on the battle between Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Julian Savea in the No 12 jersey but it was the man playing at centre for the Hurricanes who perhaps emerged with his reputation most enhanced.

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Bailyn Sullivan made his Super Rugby debut back in 2018 for the Chiefs as a 20-year-old but has had precious few opportunities to showcase his talents over the last few years thanks to the presence of players like Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea and Alex Nankivell. Sullivan’s few games in Chiefs colours came on the wing but even then his minutes were limited.

Now 23 years of age, Sullivan made the move down to the Hurricanes during the off-season and has suddenly emerged as potential long-term option in the midfield for the Wellingtonians after impressing in his debut Super Rugby start in the midfield.

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While Sullivan certainly had his hands full on defence marking up against All Black Rieko Ioane, who never seemed to struggle to generate go-forward ball for the Blues, he did shine out on attack and set up two of the Hurricanes’ five tries in their come-from-behind 33-32 victory.

 

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The Hurricanes’ second score came from a perfectly weighted grubber kick from Sullivan, with Wes Goosen racing onto the ball and grabbing the five-pointer.

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It was the second try that Sullivan set up, however – the one that ultimately won the Hurricanes the match – that was perhaps more impressive.

Receiving the ball on the Hurricanes’ own 10-metre line, Sullivan fended off the tackle of former league star Tuivasa-Sheck – in his Super Rugby debut – and raced deep into the Blues half before sending the ball wide to a rampaging Ardie Savea, who saw off the rest of the Blues defence and touched down under the posts.

It capped off a fine 80 minutes of rugby from Sullivan – who also impressed in a cameo off the bench last weekend where he scored one try against the Crusaders.

Hurricanes coach Jason Holland admitted Sullivan’s strong performance in the midfield meant selecting the team moving forward was going to become more difficult, especially once the injured Billy Proctor returns to action.

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“He was really good tonight,” Holland said of his No 13. “It’s not always easy coming into a team for the first time and we’ve got a pretty special 13 in Billy Proctor as well who wasn’t there tonight. Bailyn stepped into those shoes really well and created a lot. Really happy for him.

“He can play 13, he can play wing, he can do whatever. Some good choices coming up for us.”

Former All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen combined nicely with Sullivan off the bench while Savea perhaps performed better once he shifted to the right wing late in the second half. Goosen and Salesi Rayasi, meanwhile, combined for four of the Hurricanes’ five tries while Jordie Barrett is an automatic selection at fullback.

While Holland doesn’t quite have as difficult a task fitting all his top players into his backline as someone like Scott Robertson at the Crusaders, Sullivan’s impressive showing against the Blues will have certainly created some food for thought.

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