Lock Blade Thompson scored two tries to lift the Hurricanes to a 16-9 win over the Crusaders yesterday, keeping alive their hopes of reaching the Super rugby playoffs.
Thompson scored on 23 minutes off a floated pass from flyhalf Beauden Barrett to give the Wellington-based Hurricanes an 11-3 lead at halftime, then completed a double in the 73rd with a 60m dash for the try that clinched the match.
The Hurricanes’ eighth win of the season lifted them from sixth to fifth place on a crowded championships ladder, just a point behind the Crusaders, who took a bonus point to stay in fourth.
However, the Hurricanes have only one match remaining in the regular season, while most of their playoffs rivals have two.
The Crusaders, who have conceded first place in the New Zealand conference to the Dunedin-based Highlanders, have matches remaining against the Auckland-based Blues and Highlanders as they try to press claims to an eighth Super rugby title.
The Hurricanes entered yesterday’s match without their regular captain, All Blacks center Conrad Smith, who broke his thumb during this month’s internationals against England. They then lost All Blacks backrower Victor Vito to a calf injury and Samoa center Alapati Leiua to a knee injury inside the first eight minutes.
However, they overcame those setbacks to dominate the first half, achieving a 69 percent territorial advantage as the lethargic Crusaders struggled to defuse their kicking game. The Crusaders were slow to react to the threat of kicks deep into their territory and to respond to the pressure of the Hurricanes’ kick-chase, at which winger Julian Savea was most effective.
The Hurricanes’ superiority was not reflected on the scoreboard and they were lucky when Thompson’s first try allowed them to go to halftime with an eight-point cushion.
Crusaders fullback Tom Taylor was caught near his goalline as he collected a Hurricanes kick, the Hurricanes turned the ball over and Thompson came off the touchline to catch Barrett’s long pass and score.
Barrett had earlier kicked two penalties to reach 198 points for the season, beating his franchise season pointscoring record of 197 points set in 2012.
The Crusaders were much better in the second half, working off a strong set piece. Flyhalf Colin Slade kicked his second and third penalties to cut the lead to 11-9 before being forced from the field in the 47th with concussion.
He was replaced by All Blacks star Dan Carter, who made his first Super Rugby appearance of the season, ending a six-month break.
The Crusaders pressured the Hurricanes’ line, but could not score and saw the match snatched from them after Thompson ran onto a short kick from winger Cory Jane, won a favorable bounce, and ran 60m to score.
Winger Alofa Alofa scored two tries and flyhalf Bernard Foley added 16 points as the New South Wales Waratahs beat the ACT Brumbies 39-8 yesterday to lift themselves atop of the Super rugby table.
The Waratahs’ five-try, bonus point victory carried them into first place, three points ahead of South Africa’s Sharks, who are not involved in the weekend’s 17th round as the Springboks conclude this month’s Test program. The Sharks have led the tournament throughout the season and might reclaim first place when they return to action next weekend.