Piri Weepu staked his claim to the All Blacks’ fly-half role by steering the Wellington Hurricanes to a rare 30-24 win over the Canterbury Crusaders yesterday.
The end could not come soon enough for the Hurricanes as they faced a torrid final 10 minutes in which the Crusaders fought back from 30-12 down.
But a possible match-winning try was not to be as the defending champions slumped to their second consecutive defeat.
They were left with the consolation prize of two bonus points for scoring four tries, while the Hurricanes had the satisfaction of a second win from three rounds and their first over the Crusaders in their last seven matches.
Instrumental to their success was All Blacks half-back Weepu who switched to fly-half — a position where New Zealand coach Graham Henry admitted this week there was a shortage of talent with Dan Carter injured.
Weepu marshaled the Hurricanes around the park, moving his outsides when there was room to run and finding gaps with the boot when the Crusaders defense moved up.
He also proved himself a more than capable kicker with a 100 percent success rate and 15 points from three conversions and three penalties, one from near halfway, although his one drop goal attempt fell well short.
“We showed tonight what we can do if we do the little things right,” Hurricanes captain Rodney So’oialo said. “With a team like the Crusaders, you have to play a full 80-minute game. The last 10 minutes was very tough, the boys started getting tired and holes started appearing.”
Referee Stu Dickinson managed to sin-bin both captains, So’oialo and Richie McCaw, as he clamped down on constant infringements.
Weepu had the Hurricanes 6-0 up from two penalties, before Casey Laulala scored the first try, finishing off a break by winger Jared Payne.
But when McCaw was off the field, the Hurricanes struck back with a try to Zac Guilford, with a conversion and penalty by Weepu giving them a 16-7 lead at the turn.
The Crusaders scored first in the second half when Thomas Waldrom gathered in a wayward Hurricanes kick and his counterattack took play to the left flank, where lock Brad Thorn scored.
But almost immediately the Hurricanes replied with an intercept try to Alby Mathewson and were then rewarded for a patient build-up with a try to Ma’a Nonu.
Down 30-12 and needing three tries to regain the lead, the Crusaders lifted their game.
Payne scored in the 70th minute and with three minutes to go Waldrom crashed over, but a winner was not to be.