Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Hurricanes win in controversial thriller over Blues

Jerome Kaino of the Blues looks on during the round three Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues looks on during the round three Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.

Hurricanes 23
Blues 19

The Hurricanes have shaken off their hangover as beaten finalists last year to claim their first win of the season but Tana Umaga's Blues have every right to be disappointed at the contentious nature of it.

Television match official Shane McDermott was at the heart of two crucial decisions against Umaga's men at Eden Park. He allowed a try to be awarded to halfback TJ Perenara in the second half despite what appeared to be a clear knock-on in the build-up by Ardie Savea, and, shortly after a stunning individual effort from 50m by wing Tevita Li was ruled out after McDermott decided the pass to him from Lolagi Visinia was forward.

Both decisions could have gone the other way, and, while the Blues often made poor decisions in their second defeat in a fortnight, it wasn't all their fault. In the end the Blues made a desperate effort for victory, and with Victor Vito sinbinned after the hooter, and the home side camped on the Hurricanes' line, it very nearly came off.

As it happened: Hurricanes beat Blues in nail-biter

Umaga had little to say about either decision by McDermott, saying of Savea's apparent mistake: "Obviously it wasn't a knock-on because he [Perenara] scored the try and it went up on the scoreboard," he said. "None of that is relevant now because it's five points."

Umaga preferred to talk about his team's effort in responding to the setbacks. "I'm proud of our boys. They stuck at it, they came back. Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted but I'm proud of the effort."

For Chris Boyd and the Hurricanes, there was massive relief after such a poor start to the season.

The win came at a cost, though, because wing Nehe Milner-Skudder left the field early in the second half with a dislocated shoulder, a sight and diagnosis which will also concern All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as the little wing is likely to be out for a month to six weeks at least.

Boyd, though, was in no doubt as to the importance of the win. "We were dusted up with a poor performance against the Brumbies, played better against the Highlanders and didn't get the result so we needed to have a performance but more importantly we needed a win," he said.

"It's massive for us... in this game the Blues had massive territorial advantage and possession for long periods of time so for us to guts out a victory under a lot of pressure I think is significant for us."

New Blues coach Umaga will know that this was a huge opportunity wasted.

His men leaped to an 8-0 lead thanks to Rene Ranger's dexterity on the right wing when he touched the ball down in mid-air over the sideline under immense pressure from Julian Savea and they enjoyed as much as 83 per cent of possession over the opening 12 minutes.

But, once Vito scored from a driving maul to put the Hurricanes to within a point of the Blues, it all went a bit pear-shaped. Starved of possession and looking second best at the set piece, suddenly the Hurricanes looked more like the team of last year. The breaks started coming and so did another try, this time to Perenara who claimed a Milner-Skudder kick to score by the posts.

A George Moala try from a driving maul straight after halftime brought the Blues closer at 15-13, but Perenara's second try after 53 minutes was a hammer blow and the ruling out of Li's effort added insult to injury. A run of eight penalties out of nine went the way of the Hurricanes in the third quarter.

However, West's two penalties brought the Blues back to within striking range at 23-19, and the crowd of 20,100 became increasingly vocal at the home team's efforts in trying for another come-from-behind victory.

Hurricanes 23 (Victor Vito, TJ Perenara 2 tries; Beauden Barrett con, 2 pens)
Blues 19 (Rene Ranger, George Moala tries; Ihaia West 3 pens)
Halftime: 15-8

- NZ Herald

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