The Auckland Blues scored a pulsating 19-17 win over the Wellington Hurricanes yesterday to keep their Super 14 semi-final hopes alive and put a big dent in the Hurricanes' playoff ambitions.
The win, in which attacking flair was thwarted by desperate defense, put the Blues into third place in the table, one point behind the Hurricanes.
But both teams could potentially slip out of the top four depending on other results over the weekend.
Blues captain Troy Flavell said he was happy with the result, despite missing out on what could be a vital bonus point.
In a match of great intensity in front of a crowd of 37,000 at Eden Park, the Blues kept the Hurricanes scoreless in the second spell. A solitary 59th minute penalty from fullback Nick Evans gave them the lead they never relinquished.
Three desperate drop goal attempts by Hurricanes flyhalf Willie Ripia in the final three minutes all went astray, dashing their hopes of a home semi-final.
The Blues dominated early, partly through the superior tactical kicking of Evans, who opened the scoring with the first of his four penalties in the fifth minute.
Momentum swung back to the Hurricanes with winger Hosea Gear conjuring two quickfire tries virtually out of nothing in the 17th and 19th minutes.
The first saw Gear collect the ball 40m out, scuttle across field, before straightening and outpacing the cover defense to score a try, which was converted by halfback Piri Weepu.
Two minutes later a long raking kick from Weepu was picked up by Evans inside his own 22, but Gear charged down his attempted clearance and followed it up to make the try.
But Blues lock Anthony Boric hit back after 23 minutes, crashing through three Hurricanes tackles to make the score 14-10.
Blues No. 8 Nick Williams was sinbinned after 31 minutes for repeated offenses at the breakdown, but just before half time he was joined by Hurricanes fullback Tamati Ellison who was given 10 minutes for obstruction.
Two more penalties for the Blues and one for the Hurricanes left the score at 17-16 at half-time. The Blues twice came agonizingly close to scoring tries in the 46th and 47th minutes when winger David Smith was held up over the line and Jerome Kaino’s foot went into touch as he tried to force the touchdown. But it was Evans’ penalty that grabbed the win in the second half.
Force beat Brumbies
AFP, PERTH, Australia
The Western Force rose from the dead to beat the ACT Brumbies 29-22 in an entertaining Super 14 clash yesterday.
The match had no bearing on the finals, but the Force’s seventh win ensured they finished as the second-best performed Australian side this season, behind the Waratahs.
It was a disappointing end to Laurie Fisher’s coaching stint with the Brumbies, but his side had looked set to send him off on a high when they stormed out to a 22-0 lead early in the match against a shell-shocked Force.
However, the home side stemmed the onslaught and then scored the last four tries of the game against the tiring Brumbies in a remarkable turnaround.