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Crusaders survive Hurricanes onslaught in thrilling Super Rugby Pacific contest

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

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The Crusaders have survived a barrage of pressure from the Hurricanes to clinch a dramatic 24-21 Super Rugby Pacific victory at Sky Stadium in Wellington.

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It was a classic contest in every sense of the word, with numerous players starring in a tense and tight affair that produced an array of talking points that will be discussed throughout the coming week.

Chief among those discussions will be the controversial ending to the enthralling contest, with the Hurricanes turning down a shot at goal to take the match to extra-time, only to have their try-scoring opportunity squandered by a Scott Barrett lineout steal.

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Had they taken full advantage of their promising field position at the set piece, it would have been good reward for the Hurricanes, who showed glimpses of what they are capable of throughout the encounter.

Taking an early lead through the boot of Jordie Barrett, the Hurricanes impressed with their strong defence against the Crusaders.

However, despite looking threatening in the wake of their somewhat surprising lead, the Hurricanes weren’t able to add to their lead thanks to some stunning defensive work by Tom Christie, a late call-up for the Crusaders in place of Pablo Matera.

That instigated a a well-executed attack in which Hurricanes halfback Jamie Booth, a late call-up for TJ Perenara, was unable to stop David Havili from bursting through to eventually set Will Jordan away for the first Crusaders try.

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Almost immediately, though, some brilliance by Hurricanes fullback Josh Moorby to dance through a couple of Crusaders defenders and pop an offload away for Du’Plessis Kirifi to score from edged the hosts back into the lead.

Kirifi’s try, and Moorby’s impressive attacking play, came on the back of some powerful ball-running around the fringes of the breakdown by industrious Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea.

The exact same could be said of the home side’s next try – which, again, came just moments after the Crusaders retook the lead via Quinten Strange.

Some charging, destructive attack by Savea from a quick tap was enough get the Hurricanes within centimetres of the opposition tryline, and a penalty advantage enabled Jason Holland’s side to spread the ball wide.

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In doing so, they got Moorby in possession of the ball, and his long levers and good footwork got him over the line in the face of a couple of Hurricanes defenders.

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Both of those involvements should answer the questions raised by media and the public of Holland’s decision to start Moorby, playing in just his second-ever Super Rugby Pacific match, ahead of prodigious youngster Ruben Love at No 15.

If it weren’t for Moorby, or Savea, the Hurricanes probably wouldn’t have taken a 18-17 lead into the half-time break, a one-point buffer that came after Jordie Barrett’s penalty cancelled out the try scored by George Bridge shortly after Moorby’s five-pointer.

Another penalty by Barrett early in the second half was good reward for the damaging ball-running of Julian Savea well inside Crusaders territory.

However, poor discipline and equally good attack by Ethan Blackadder pushed the Crusaders back in front moments later, a lead of which they continued to hold despite a barrage of pressure from the Hurricanes.

A beautiful sniping run by Booth around the fringes of the ruck put the Crusaders on the back foot, but his failure to link with hooker James O’Reilly, who was lurking out on the wing, cost the Hurricanes a prime try-scoring opportunity.

Two other scoring chances also went begging, the first of which came when a Wes Goosen line break came to an abrupt end after Leicester Fainga’anuku snaffled a breakdown turnover from a tackle on Jackson Garden-Bachop.

The second came when Kirifi coughed the ball up poorly just as the Hurricanes were knocking on the door of the Crusaders’ tryline following some stunning work by Julian Savea, who kicked a superb 50/22 to peg the visitors well inside their own half.

That kick was one of two 50/22s executed by the Hurricanes, the other achieved by Barrett, but none of that yielded points on the scoreboard.

The Crusaders themselves could have extended their three-point lead when some charges upfield by Jordan and Sevu Reece looked to have put Codie Taylor in for a try, only for that score to be rubbed out by a Christie knock on.

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Christie went on to cross in the left-hand corner in what would have been the decisive try six minutes from full-time, but the TMO to rule it out due to a Scott Barrett spillage at a breakdown a phase or two beforehand.

That set up a grand stand finish as both teams threw the kitchen sink at each other in a bid to close out the match, with both sets of players opting to run from deep and take on defenders at will.

A crescendo was reached when the Hurricanes had the chance to take a penalty shot at goal two minutes past the full-time siren in an act that would have sent the match into extra-time.

That’s not what they did, though, as assistant coach Cory Jane barked orders at Barrett and Ardie Savea to instead kick for the sideline on the advice of the other Hurricanes coaches.

Scott Robertson’s bravely chose to compete at the lineout while only five metres from their own tryline, and it proved to be a masterstroke decision as they disrupted and killed the Hurricanes’ ball, making it unplayable for the hosts.

Referee Brendon Pickerill subsequently brought the match to a close, with Ardie Savea and Jordie Barrett both expressing their dismay at the officials’, with the former claiming that he was dragged down at the set piece by Scott Barrett.

Questions must be asked why the option to take the match to golden point was turned down, though, as that decision effectively condemned the Hurricanes to three straight defeats heading into Tuesday’s home clash with Moana Pasifika.

The Crusaders, by contrast, move to the top of the Super Rugby Pacific table, although they could yet be overtaken by the Brumbies, who play the Fijian Drua later on Saturday.

Crusaders 24 (Tries to Will Jordan, Quinten Strange, George Bridge and Ethan Blackadder; 2 conversions to Richie Mo’unga)

Hurricanes 21 (Tries to Du’Plessis Kirifi and Josh Moorby; conversion and 3 penalties to Jordie Barrett)

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