The counterattacking skills of the Wellington Hurricanes knocked defending champions the Waikato Chiefs out of the Super 15 top six with a stunning 45-8 victory yesterday.
The long-range specialists ran in six tries for a bonus-point win that propelled them up to fourth place on the tightly packed leader board, where only four points separate the second-placed New South Wales Waratahs and now-seventh Chiefs.
The Hurricanes, bouncing back from a loss to the Otago Highlanders last week, have now won six of their past eight games after starting the year as one of the least-fancied sides.
They laid the groundwork for the rout playing into the wind in the first half when they stunned the Chiefs with three tries that originated inside their own half.
Despite the Hurricanes leading the competition in clean breaks and defenders beaten, the Chiefs seemed unprepared for their ability to attack from afar.
As the tries mounted against them, the confidence waned in the two-time champions Chiefs, whose reputation for piling on the points in the second half was left in tatters and their brief scoring run completed very early in the match.
Not even the return of flyhalf Aaron Cruden, after a lengthy spell sidelined with a broken thumb, could ignite the Chiefs.
In his battle with Barrett to determine who will be named next weekend as the All Blacks pivot in place of the unavailable Dan Carter, it was Barrett who made the most of his chances and converted all six tries.
Battling into a stiff southerly breeze in the first half, the Hurricanes toyed with the stilted Chiefs defense, with Andre Taylor scoring first, ending a 60m move ignited by All Blacks wing Julian Savea.
Fellow All Blacks flyer Corey Jane sparked the second try from inside the Hurricanes’ half before offloading to Barrett, who took play up to the line where prop Ben Franks loomed up to finish the move.
Center Alapati Leiua started off the third try-scoring move, which Savea finished off.
The Chiefs, who had used the wind to kick for territory in the first half, had scant reward, with only a penalty to Gareth Anscombe and a try to Liam Squire during his brief cameo as a blood-bin replacement for Sam Cane.
After a Barrett penalty extended the lead to 24-8 soon after halftime, Savea scored the bonus-point try from another long-range effort in which Barrett, twice, Jane and Leuia all handled in a move that swept half the field.
The Hurricanes then showed that they could score from close range with forwards Jack Lam and Brad Shield both driving over.
CRUSADERS V HIGHLANDERS
AFP, DUNEDIN, New Zealand
The Canterbury Crusaders recovered from their shock loss to the Coastal Sharks last week to snatch a desperate 32-30 victory over the Otago Highlanders in a frenetic local derby yesterday.
The outcome of the match hinged on a video replay after Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne dived over in an Israel Dagg tackle after the final hooter.
After multiple replays, the TV match official ruled the ball had touched the sideline and tryline simultaneously, and the try was disallowed, leaving the Crusaders elated and the Highlanders distraught.
Both sides scored a four-try bonus point in the high-stakes encounter to remain in the top six, with the Crusaders provisionally moving to the top of the New Zealand conference.
FORCE V LIONS