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Hurricanes set-up Crusaders semi-final

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Hurricanes dig deep to steer clear of the hard-charging Bulls

The Hurricanes will face the Crusaders in Christchurch next weekend in a Super Rugby semi-final after a 35-28 victory on Saturday over the Bulls which wasn’t without its difficulties despite a nightmarish recent travel scenario for the South Africans (writes Patrick McKendry of the New Zealand Herald).

The Bulls travelled from Dunedin to Pretoria to Wellington over the past fortnight but put a huge amount of pressure on the Hurricanes, forcing them into defensive mistakes which they often impressively capitalised on.

Defending a seven-point advantage in the final minutes, the Hurricanes had to dig extremely deep to keep the hard-charging Bulls out at the end.

In the final two minutes, an Ardie Savea turnover thwarted a promising attack but the visitors got the ball back and it wasn’t over until 90 seconds after the final siren when wing Cornal Hendricks knocked it on in a mistake which shouldn’t tarnish his excellent overall performance.

The home side defended well in those moments but the earlier flaws will also be mercilessly punished by the defending champion Crusaders who romped to a fairly regulation victory over the Highlanders in their quarter-final.

Replacement wing Salesi Rayasi is sure to be in the Crusaders’ headlights if he plays next weekend. Coming on for right wing Wes Goosen after Goosen appeared to strain a hamstring when putting TJ Perenara over the Hurricanes’ first try, Rayasi scored two tries but was too easily beaten on the right touchline for wing Hendricks’ first try.

In the second half, Rayasi gave up a penalty try when intentionally knocking on a pass as a last defender, earning himself a yellow card in the process and making this victory perhaps a little more difficult than it should have been for his side.

Hendricks was a beneficiary of more ordinary defending for his second try when he stood up All Black Jordie Barrett to go over in the right corner.

The Bulls had an early lead but the Hurricanes were soon in control and never looked seriously threatened, although Hendricks’ second try put the Bulls to within four points with 20 minutes remaining before Jordie Barrett’s penalty, and the visitors’ defence was impressive in the final stages.

They were at their best when they were direct via their massive forwards or engaged in a set piece – success which will not have gone unnoticed by the Crusaders – but were a little fragile when the ball was put in behind them and for them to get a result at Westpac Stadium nearly everything needed to go right.

Their fitness held up well despite their recent travel but they made too many handling errors to maintain pressure, although their resilience was impressive; things didn’t always go to plan but they kept charging in, and, more importantly trying things.

Half-back Perenara was an increasingly dominant figure for the Hurricanes, as was loose forward Savea, with Beauden Barrett having his moments. But midfielder Ngani Laumape, usually a big danger man for the Hurricanes, was kept quiet by the Bulls, who had a good performer in his opposite Jesse Kriel.

“It was great character from the boys – we had a long four-week tour here and then had one game back before coming here again,” Bulls first-five Handre Pollard said afterwards. “We let in a few soft tries but the fight from the boys was unbelievable.”

Hurricanes 35 (Salesi Rayasi 2, TJ Perenara, Ben Lam tries; Beauden Barrett pen, 3 cons, Jordie Barrett 2 pens)

Bulls 28 (Cornal Hendricks 2,Warrick Gelant tries, penalty try; Handre Pollard 3 cons)

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Hurricanes dig deep to steer clear of the hard-charging Bulls