Rugby: Hurricanes huff and puff

Tom Taylor of the Crusaders in action against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, last night. The Canes were slender victors. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Taylor of the Crusaders in action against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, last night. The Canes were slender victors. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 22
Hurricanes 23

They love to talk about expecting the unexpected from the Hurricanes. And sometimes they even deliver. The Hurricanes did their own playoff chances the world of good but by beating the Crusaders, they have all but handed the New Zealand conference to the Chiefs.

The Crusaders will be filthy they lost. They lacked the killer edge all night and never shut the door.

They came to regret that when they conceded a penalty with six minutes to go and allowed Beauden Barrett to nudge his side one point in front.

The old stagers would all have still had their money on the Crusaders to escape and they had their chances. They won a penalty they might have scrummaged wide on the left five minutes out.

But Tom Taylor couldn't nail it. They won a tighthead scrum with one minute left and a subsequent penalty. There was time to kick for touch and build one last play - but they went for goal.

Tyler Bleyendaal came up just short.

That miss leaves the Chiefs in pole position - they are 10 points ahead and almost there. The Crusaders have to raise their game if they are to even get close in Hamilton.

They were like a weary axeman last night, hacking away and failing to topple the Hurricanes. It was a grind for the home side, especially as they lacked their usual ruthless efficiency and the pesky way the Hurricanes wouldn't lie down and allow the execution. For the final 20 minutes the game was in the balance - the Hurricanes so lively to the half-chance and so unwilling to believe they were over and out.

The Crusaders, for their part, couldn't find the overdrive the button. They dug deep, hoped for a bit of magic, a miracle score to provide the buffer they needed to ease their nerves, but it never came. Instead, it was edgy, nailbiting and eventually won by the Hurricanes who had more belief and composure when they needed it.

Certainly for the first 40 minutes the Crusaders were particularly off their game. They played too much rugby in their own territory, made too many mistakes and lacked conviction.

There was more about them in the second half - presumably after coach Todd Blackadder put a rocket up them. Their scrummaging improved, although the suspicion remains that the Hurricanes' effort may have been woeful, the accuracy improved and there was no desire to be all fancy pants in areas where it wasn't going to hurt their opponents.

And of course Taylor banged over his goals. The young first five was a critical contributor - his boot providing the points the Crusaders were struggling to score through their preferred means.

Victory was imperative for the Crusaders but they would have had a half an eye on the bonus point as well.

But the danger of taking too many risks and trying to force the game was twofold: firstly, if the Crusaders lost, that would be it as far as the New Zealand conference was concerned. It would be the Chiefs'. Secondly, the more open and fluid the game, the more it suited the Hurricanes.

They are a side that lives off scraps. They want the game to be unstructured, for their scrum to be kept safe from danger and the set-piece made irrelevant.

In Jack Lam they had a busy and effective operator at the collision and in Conrad Smith and Andre Taylor, they had two of the more threatening backs.

Julian Savea waded in with a bustling effort that also showed his aerial skills in a more flattering light than the last time he played on the same ground.

The Hurricanes nailed a statistic to confirm what everyone knew - they are the best attacking side in the competition. They don't need to hog the ball, spend minutes at a time in possession, advancing inch by inch. All they need is a quick touch and they are off - a point clarified when Conrad Smith scored his second try just before half-time.

That put them 17-16 ahead and yet it was hard to recall the Hurricanes ever being particularly dominant at any stage. They were there in a supporting role. That's been the story of their season - they absorb and withstand and then wham, they have seven points.

Smith's second was the 55th try the Hurricanes have scored in 2012 - a season record.

But all those tries may not be enough to push the Hurricanes into the final six.

Crusaders 22 (Z. Guildford try; T. Taylor con, 5 pens) Hurricanes 23 (C. Smith 2 tries; B. Barrett 2 cons, 3 pens).

- Herald on Sunday

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