When they look like a million bucks for 20 minutes, but utterly destitute for the next 60, how on earth do you evaluate the Hurricanes?
A 29-19 victory over the Rebels may look relative routine on paper, but how it unfolded was rather bizarre, as the Hurricanes nearly allowed the visitors to pull off a seismic heist.
In many ways, the match was a microcosm of the Hurricanes' season. Despite their All Blacks-laden core, the Hurricanes have rarely put a complete performance on the board, with a slew of tight victories getting the job done, but not exactly inspiring confidence that they will be able to beat the best (aka the Crusaders) come playoff time.
Sure, today's victory sees four more points banked – all very well and good – but after having thrashed the Chiefs last week, the Hurricanes needed to show they could back it up with a similarly dominant showing against a Rebels side riding high on the table, but having not beaten many teams of note.
What made this afternoon's win so strange, then, was just how overwhelming the Hurricanes looked to begin. They took just 21 minutes to seemingly ruin the Rebels' hopes at Westpac Stadium, whirling to a 26-0 lead with little resistance.
The only thing the visitors were rebelling against early on was the general concept of defence, as the Hurricanes crossed for four of the easiest tries they'll score this season.
Beauden Barrett was emulating his brother Jordie, cruising across the field and ghosting through massive gaps, while Ngani Laumape slipped through one tackle, was too fast for another, and barged through a third in a 40-metre effort.
He wasn't the only Hurricane to leave Rebels defenders lying in his wake. Wes Goosen was put into space from a simple backline move and streaked down the right sideline untouched, before Asafo Aumua brutally bumped off one would-be obstacle before freeing Vaea Fifita for a fourth try in the first quarter.
The Rebels must have been sensing deja vu – the last time they were in Wellington, they conceded 11 tries in a 71-6 rout, and were thumped 36-12 and 66-24 in their other visits.
But, just as thoughts started to return to the 71-point effort of 2017 – or when the Rebels leaked 85 to the Crusaders the year before that – the Hurricanes turned from princes to paupers. Scrums, and the re-setting of said scrums, were the major feature of the ensuing 19 minutes before the break, while any attempted Hurricanes counter-attacks were missing the magic touch from minutes before.
The Rebels' defending was much improved – making tackles is important, who knew? - and they then began to dominate territory early in the second half, allowing Matt Philip to finally put the visitors on the board in the 52nd minute.
With mistakes galore, the game lost all semblance of structure, and the Hurricanes' penalty count started to rack up as they hardly got their hands on the ball. The Rebels were making them pay too - Bill Meakes crossed from a lovely array of offloads stemming from a lineout, and five minutes later Reece Hodge went over in the corner. Suddenly, the Rebels were within seven points with 10 minutes remaining.
Fortunately for the home fans, the unthinkable did not happen, as a Jordie Barrett long-range penalty split the uprights, ending a 55 minute scoreless drought, and finally securing a rather laboured victory.
Hurricanes 29 (N. Laumape, B. Barrett, W. Goosen, V. Fifita tries; B. Barrett 3 cons, J. Barrett pen)
Rebels 19 (M. Philip, B. Meakes, R. Hodge tries; Q. Cooper 2 cons)