The Auckland Blues held off a late charge from the Wellington Hurricanes to claim a narrow 17-11 win and remain top of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference yesterday.
The Hurricanes, who beat the Queensland Reds with a late penalty last week, were denied what could have been a match-winning conversion attempt when Tyson Keats lost control of the ball when he burrowed over the try line with 80 minutes on the clock.
A sixth successive win for the Blues, courtesy of an Alby Mathewson try and four penalties from Lachie Munro, gave them 47 points, seven clear of the Canterbury Crusaders, who play the Stormers in South Africa today.
“The competition is so tough and games are being won in the last 15 minutes,” Blues skipper Keven Mealamu said in a pitchside TV interview. “Credit to the guys, we worked hard in the last 15 minutes and sneaked away with four points. We’ll take this one.”
The Blues led 9-3 with three penalty kicks to one after a disappointing first half in which both sides struggled for continuity as the wet conditions took a toll on handling.
Hurricanes replacement lock Jeremy Thrush looked like he would score the opening try 10 minutes after the break following a rampaging run down the blindside, but he spilled the ball over the try line.
However, five minutes later, Thrush made amends by blocking a Stephen Brett kick, gathering the ball and feeding Aaron Cruden, who tore off down the sideline before finding Hosea Gear on his outside, the All Black winger finishing well in the corner.
Cruden missed the conversion, but stroked over his second penalty just on the hour mark to give the Hurricanes the lead for the first time at 11-9.
That marked the high point for the Hurricanes and soon afterward scrumhalf Keats, who had just come on the pitch as a replacement, was sin-binned for a spear tackle.
Munro kicked the Blues back in front from the resultant penalty and five minutes later, former Hurricane scrumhalf Mathewson dummied his way across the try line from close range after the Blues had driven the ball from a line-out.
The Blues had a couple of chances to put the match beyond doubt, but handling errors again proved costly and the Hurricanes took advantage to put the visitors tryline under siege for the last few minutes of the match.
“Having the nine on the bench for 10 minutes didn’t help,” Hurricanes skipper Andrew Hore said. “We fought pretty well to get back into the lead after a pretty good try and then to have something like that ... is pretty disappointing.”