It was another fantastic bout between two sides who seem to have an intense rivalry and a strong respect, one for the other. Is…
Melbourne Rebels have never beaten the Hurricanes on the eastern side of our great, salty divide. And in cool, blustery conditions – or what Wellingtonians would call a regular Saturday night at the Cake Tin – it didn’t ever look likely they would this time around, either.
Indeed, at face value this game was a physical affair that never reached great heights. It seems strange to say in a game that begat 10 tries and 67 points. But there it is: the Hurricanes went in $1.07, and only shortened as the game went on.
“It was a similar story to the last few weeks,” Rebels captain Michael Wells told Stan Sport after the defeat. “We’re bleeding through the heart through the middle of the ruck. In a grown man’s game you can’t let people come through the middle.
“Our attacking side – everyone likes to carry it and we’ve got some big ball-runners. We just haven’t done the same on the defensive side of the ball. We’re not coming off square on the line so we’re giving off weak shoulders. It’s gonna hurt us.”
It did. All night long. As Wells described – they run up the middle at will, then spun it wide if the holes closed.
As early as the third minute, Julian Savea, ‘The Bus’, scored his 57th try for the Hurricanes – the second-most in franchise history behind TJ Perenara (58) – when he out-paced and out-ran Rebels cover which had more chance of holding back airborne Ebola.
Just moments later, the Rebels lost Reece Hodge and Matt To’omua kicked a penalty goal. They’d have swapped Hodge for the three.
It was always going to be tough. Without the thunder boot of Hodge, impossible. Perenara soon hit Billy Proctor, who ran a fine 13’s line and plunged over under the posts in the space where Hodge may have been.
The Hurricanes strung phases together, driving up the middle and offloading off the floor. It was like a river. There was a sense of inevitability to the try to Blake Gibson following a 5m lineout and rolling maul.
The Rebels hit back, though, their own rolling maul begetting a try to Hodge’s replacement Lukas Ripley. Toomua missed the conversion. The gulf was 11.
Chunky Canes lock James Blackwell wouldn’t score many tries but he hit a hole as Proctor had and went over good as untouched.
With time up on the clock, the Canes went 100 metres from a penalty, earning two lineouts, a heap of phases, and a driving maul. But the Rebels held them out. And at half-time it was 26-8.
Ripley had another one after sustained pressure to keep the game alive, but it was never going to last. The Hurricanes went 100, again, and after just about every man touched the ball the man most unlikely, reserve prop Asafo Aumua, reached out and planted.
It was total rugby. It was a training exercise. It was over.
There followed tries to Jordie Barrett, Aidan Morgan and Ripley for his hat-trick, before referee Williams put a fork in the game to indicate it was finally done – a 21-point triumph for the home side.
“I’m critical of our team but that should take nothing away from the Canes,” Wells told Stan Sport at full-time.
“They were great. Due respect – they put us to the sword every time.”
Hurricanes captain and ornament TJ Perenara said: “For a big part of it we were really happy. Early in the second half we weren’t happy with our skill set. But we fixed that and went well.
“We played some awesome footy.”