Hurricanes reach Super 14 final

Hurricanes 16 Waratahs 14

The 2006 crop of Hurricanes secured themselves a place in the franchises' history books and date in the Super 14 rugby final next week after beating the Waratahs 16-14 here tonight.

In a combative and thrill encounter, the Hurricanes won their first Super rugby semifinal in four attempts and will face either the Crusaders or Bulls next week after tomorrow's second semifinal in Christchurch.

For the sellout raucous Westpac Stadium crowd in the Hurricanes first home semifinal, the long wait for their team to reach a finally ended - but it was close.

Despite the best efforts of rampaging wing Lote Tuqiri, who tormented the hosts all night on attack and defence, the Hurricanes withstood some late pressure and showed the tenacity required to make a final.

After leading 13-8 at halftime, the Hurricanes saw their advantage whittled away and passed as Peter Hewat nailed two penalties in the 65th and 68th minutes.

But a whopping 50m penalty from replacement first five-eighth Jimmy Gopperth shortly afterwards saw the lead swing again.

In the frantic closing minutes, when the Waratahs found themselves camped down in their own half, the Hurricanes forwards smothered the ball.

With 30 seconds remaining, South Africa referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded the hosts a penalty which closed out the game.

The victory also extended the Waratahs barren run in Wellington, remaining winless there in six attempts.

As they did in last week's gutsy 19-14 win over the Waratahs in Sydney, the midfield combination of Tana Umaga and Ma'a Nonu again battered the Waratahs defences, but crucially for the hosts they managed to secure far more possession.

With lock Paul Tito back from an ankle injury, the Hurricanes lineout, which faltered badly last week, ran far more smoothly and supplied their backs with ample ball.

Tito was substituted with 20 minutes remaining but his influence was vital.

The Hurricanes loose forward trio of captain Rodney So'oialo, Chris Masoe and Jerry Collins were again to the fore, damaging on both defence and attack as they led a superior forward effort.

Hurricanes halfback Piri Weepu opened the scoring with a penalty from 47m. The weight of possession in the early stages meant the home side could pile on pressure and first five-eighth David Holwell, in his 75th Super match, landed a simple penalty to push the hosts out to 6-0.

With the Waratahs seemingly intent on kicking to the corners to keep the Hurricanes pinned down deep, they were rewarded with a try to Hewat in the 14th minute, courtesy of another barraging Tuqiri run.

The big No 11 broke some weak tackling and from the ensuing ruck the ball was spread through the hands with Hewat crossing in the corner.

The Waratahs stretched their lead with a Hewat penalty eight minutes later as they gradually gained ascendency.

The flowing rugby continued as both teams ran the ball wide, but they were also guilty of losing possession at crucial times.

A key moment in the half came on a Waratahs feed in a scrum but they were monstered and wheeled around by the hosts.

From the ensuing scrum feed, the Hurricanes went wide and a Umaga back pass found Lome Fa'atau who danced around two defenders to cross for his 10th try of the season to become the leading try scorer in the competition this season.

Holwell nailed the conversion, leaving the Hurricanes 13-8 ahead but the second-half penalty goals - two to Hewat and the winner to Gopperth.

Hurricanes 16 (Lome Fa'atau try; David Holwell pen, con; Piri Weepu pen, Jimmy Gopperth pen),
Wararahs 14 (Peter Hewat try; Hewat 3 pen).
HT: 13-8.

- NZPA

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