Fantastic. This game was one of the ones I was afraid we might stuff up badly, as anyone reading the discussion board might have picked up. But no, 30,000 people at the Caketin rocked to the tune of a 24-14 victory and now we're up to 2nd place on the ladder! Woohoo!
The conditions in Wellington were a little wet but there was no wind to speak of, and it was a pleasantly cool temperature as the teams ran out with everyone at the ground (myself included) in fine voice.
Although the Hurricanes dominated the first 20 minutes, poor finishing meant the scores were still locked up at 0-0. Cullen was once again at the centre of it all making burst after burst after burst. One in particular should have been a try, but with Cullen about to be tackled Fa'atau had gotten himself in a position where Cullen couldn't have passed the ball without it going foward. Cullen had to kick and it was still almost a try - the ball going dead in-goal with a cruel bounce.
Anyway, I was getting a bit concerned - all this dominance and nothing to show for it. Soon there was another break and when the Hurricanes player was tackled just short of the line Paul Millar lay all over the ball getting some bloody good rucking by about 5 Hurricanes. He was also penalised and sin-binned. Holwell kicked a penalty from close in, 3-0.
I was hoping we could really make the Chiefs pay with their man in the bin, especially with the dominance we'd displayed early on. Soon there was a try.
The manner in which it came was nothing short of outstanding. The Hurricanes were on a big raid near the tryline, pushing hard when there was an accidental offside. Scrum to the Chiefs. Now if you'd told me that we'd be turning the scrum of the Chiefs at the start of the season I would have said you were mad, but that's exactly what happened! Scrum rotated 90 degrees and we get the put-in. The Hurricanes made no such mistake with their ball and from the scrum So'oialo just dove over straight from #8 for the softest of tries. Converted by Holwell - 10-0.
The Chiefs weren't about to fold so easily though. It wasn't long before a long buildup paid off. The ball was spun along the width of the field many times, gaining about 2 feet of actual ground each time but eventually Roger Randell made a half-break managing to slip a pass to Gibbs for a nice try. 10-7 Hurricanes lead at the break.
Now I've been mentioning the brilliant form of Cullen and Umaga so much that it's only fair I think that I mention the abysmal state we find Lomu in this season. He really is becoming an embarrasment now - in the first half he was fumbling passes, missing tackles (even on Roger Randell standing still) and generally not getting the ball, which you'd have to say is sadly a good thing at the moment. I don't know what we're going to do with him - we can't expect the Hurricanes to keep playing him just because he's Jonah Lomu. For one thing it's extremely unfair on Brent Ward who's looked pretty good from what I've seen of him. For another it's detrimental to the whole team. One of the things Colin Cooper has been at pains to point out is that he's trying to build a team environment in the Hurricanes. Seeing one player given preferential treatment over all the others can only discourage that. At any rate, Lomu was subbed at halftime and given a bit more time to try and sort his head out.
Very early on in the second half were two tries - one to each team. The Chiefs scored first after another long buildup. They broke the advantage line too often and with too much ease for the Canes to keep their line intact. It was a good, honest try and the sort I don't mind seeing conceded too much. As long the other team earns their points I won't whinge about it.
It was cancelled out very soon afterwards anyway by Holwell spotting Brent Ward running a great inside line close in. He went in untouched and it was back to 17-14. Anybody's game.
The crucial part of the match was right here. The Chiefs set up camp inside Hurricanes territory but they failed to score any points. I remember it quite vividly at the stadium - when we finally got out a couple of times we'd quickly turn the ball over or kick it away stupidly and ending up under the kosh again. But the defence stuck well enough and in the end that's what counted. Holwell and Hill both missed fairly easy penalty goal opportunities before Flutey sealed the game with about 8 minutes to go. From there the Chiefs never really looked like scoring, and their night was summed up when with time all but up they turned down a shot at a penalty which would have given them a bonus point. Instead they kicked for touch. Dumb Chefs. Not that I'm complaining!
This week we've got the re-vitalised Queensland Reds at Ballymoore. They'll be on a massive high after beating the Tahs again, and I'm not just being polite when I say the Reds are a much better side than their position on the ladder would indicate. I picked them as being very likely to make the top 4 at the start of the year and while I think it's probably beyond them you can never be certain with the Queenslanders. A win this week for the Canes would have the effect of setting a new record for wins-in-a-row for the team - never before have we won 5 matches straight. It would also have the effect of finishing the Reds season off. And with probably the two best fullbacks in the world on display, Cullen and Latham should provide plenty of spark for a very entertaining clash. Looking forward to it.