Rugby: Red-hot Hurricanes blow away Sharks

By Kris Shannon

Hurricanes 41 Sharks 0
The Hurricanes celebrate James Marshall's try in their big win over the Sharks. Photo / Getty
The Hurricanes celebrate James Marshall's try in their big win over the Sharks. Photo / Getty

After a sixth straight win secured a home semifinal and solidified their favouritsm, that tantalising question must again be asked: is this at last the Hurricanes' year?

They will have to pass two far tougher tests to answer in the affirmative, but the way they dispatched the Sharks on a sodden night in Wellington did nothing to dampen their optimism.

In fairness, their opposition played like a side who didn't deserve a playoff berth, earning the ignominy of being the first team held scoreless in a Super Rugby playoff game. And the Hurricanes could soon receive some bad injury news, with Dane Coles clearly in pain as he left the field clutching his ribs.

But, in scoring six tries, last year's beaten finalists appeared unstoppable for the second straight week and have seemingly peaked at the perfect time.

It was a match that magnified the importance of locking up home advantage.

Not because the Hurricanes were roared onto victory by their vocal fans - any hardy souls who ventured out deserved to be applauded, rather than doing the applauding.

No, the Hurricanes' edge was created by making the most of whatever conditions they faced. Whether the wind was in their faces or swirling from side to side, the home side adapted their tactics accordingly and almost every move was the right one.

That was exemplified in a maestro-like performing from Beauden Barrett, particularly with his boot. The first five's display was the definition of a playmaker, shifting his charges around the park and always selecting the correct instrument from an overflowing toolbox.

Barrett was brilliant in finding distance with raking clearances, an accurate cross kick set up the opening try for Loni Uhila, his tactical kicks behind the Sharks defence caught them constantly on their heels, while well-placed grubbers created good opportunities.

It wasn't that Barrett made it look like there was no wind; he simply harnessed it. In contrast, opposite number Garth April will be having recurring nightmares of the swirling breeze after shanking three first-half penalties to leave the Sharks with nothing to show for their rare enterprise.

The visitors appeared bemused by what to do. While they would occasionally build pressure and draw penalties, the wayward April left them unable to chip away in increments of three and, to make matters worse, their lineout drive was also ineffective.

With those strategies negated, the Sharks offered little else, unable to find the moment of magic that came so easily to the Hurricanes. They could pick-and-go to counter the inclement weather and gain field position but then those same conditions proved their undoing by causing an untimely error.

The Hurricanes were far from flawless - they, too, dropped the odd bit of ball - but they were always capable of unleashing an electric long-range raid more suited to a sunny afternoon.

Jason Woodward converted one and, after also making a try, the wing's elevation to the starting lineup proved inspired, posing a question about how Julian Savea could work his way back into the run-on XV.

That the All Black might be consigned to the bench embodied the difference between the teams tonight. As did the efforts of TJ Perenara, for that matter, producing a performance that hearkened back to his best, while Vaea Fifita's rampaging run for his side's fourth try showed the Hurricanes' dynamism extended well beyond the backline.

The Sharks possessed no such X-factor and, as a result, had no answer. The question now for long-suffering Hurricanes fans is whether anyone else left in the playoffs will be able to find one.

Hurricanes 41 (L. Uhila, J. Marshall, J. Woodward, V Fifita, TJ Perenara, B. Shields tries; B. Barrett pen, 3 cons, J. Woodward con)
Sharks 0
Halftime: 13-0

- NZ Herald

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