Pre-match, the Sky Stadium crowd acknowledged new Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea on the occasion of his 100th Super Rugby appearance, but on the field, it was the visitors who made the stronger start.
In the fourth minute, after a Blues attack, Hurricanes number 8 Devan Flanders intercepted the ball in his own 22, but then proceeded to throw a risky pass which went to ground allowing Blues openside Dalton Papalii to pounce and open the scoring for the Blues with a try, converted by first five Otere Black.
The Hurricanes struck back in the sixth minute via hooker Asafo Aumua, who smashed his way through three tackles in the to get over the line. The TMO was called into action to check for a potential double movement or knock on. Neither suspicion was conclusive and the try was awarded, although fullback Jordie Barrett was unable to add the conversion.
On the back of successive penalties, referee Paul Williams warned Ardie Savea and his team about what would follow and shortly afterwards he was true to his word, with second row James Blackwell receiving the first yellow card of the match after 31 minutes. Deep inside their own 22, it looked odds on that the Blues would extend their lead, but the Canes were able to escape their half while a man down and score next, with a Barrett penalty from halfway, to see the home side take the lead 8-7. He followed that up with a second penalty on the stroke of half time, to extend the lead to 11-7.
With Blackwell returning just after the break, it was the Hurricanes who exerted the early pressure before a handing error in the Blues 22 saw the visitors clear their lines. While doing so, the Hurricanes conceded a penalty for a late tackle which allowed the Blues to advance beyond the Hurricanes 10 metre line and another penalty quickly followed. Despite turning down kicks at goal in the first half, the Blues again kicked to the corner to push for the try. But a line out 18 metres out was lost and again the Blues pressure counted for nothing.
Finally, after 48 minutes the Blues got their second try. Playing under advantage, Otere Black supplied the cross kick to left winger Caleb Clarke who comfortably crossed the tryline. Black made no mistake with the conversion to extend the lead to 14-11.
After 52 minutes, another Hurricane was sent to the sin bin. This time, deep in their own 22, it was Du’Plessis Kirifi that was the man to go. From the resultant scrum, the play spread right and with men to spare, Black put in fullback Stephen Perofeta and the momentum had well and truly changed. Black converted for the third time and suddenly the lead was 10 points with just over 25 minutes to go.
With Kirifi still off the field, the Hurricanes advanced into Blues territory after the hour mark and while under penalty advantage, the Hurricanes were held up over the line. It was the turn of Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu to receive the warning from Paul Williams. The Hurricanes won the resultant lineout deep in the Blues 22 and Aumua peeled away to score his second try of the night. Despite the tv angle seeming to indicate it was good, and the home crowd loudly taking the same opinion, Barrett’s conversion was adjudged to have been unsuccessful and the lead stood at 5 points.
Black extended the lead to 8 points with a penalty kick with just over 4 minutes remaining. Within 60 seconds came the nail in the coffin with Rieko Ioane running from inside his own half to score a bonus point try. Black’s conversion went over off the post to make the final score 31-16.
Sport returns to Sky Stadium on Wednesday with a T20i double header, but tonight Captain Savea was unable to raise his bat at the end of his own century. Next up for the Hurricanes is the always difficult visit to Christchurch next Saturday night, with the Blues hosting the Highlanders on 14th March after their bye next week.
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