Hurricanes impressive in win as Blues scramble in Wellington

March 9, 2024 8:30 pm

[Source: Hurricanes/Facebook]

Vern Cotter rolled the dice and came up snake eyes.

Heading into Saturday night’s 29-21 loss against the Hurricanes in Wellington, the Blues coach named a 6-2 bench split, loading the pine with forwards for what was expected to be a physical encounter.

But when Zarn Sullivan and AJ Lam were both forced off the field with head knocks in the opening 15 minutes and failed their subsequent HIAs, the Blues had to scramble.

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With Cole Forbes being the lone specialist outside back on the bench, reserve halfback Taufa Funaki had to play out of his comfort zone for the majority of the contest.

“You always roll the dice when you do that, but we backed the call – as you do every time,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i told Sky Sport of the 6-2 split.

“We knew it was going to be a physical one so we went with it. It’s a tough one when you’ve got players going on and off, but at the end of the day it’s next man up and you’ve got a job to do.”

Whether or not it ultimately made a difference to the result can be debated. What can’t be denied is that the Hurricanes’ attack was firing and their defence was strong.

While the Blues struggled with ball security and timing in the first half, the Hurricanes took every opportunity afforded to them.

Ruben Love flashed the tools that have many tipping him as an All Black of the future with his multi-faceted influence on the game, Cameron Roigard was testing the defence at every opportunity, Brett Cameron steered the ship with conviction, and the wing duo of Josh Moorby and Kini Naholo showed their finishing ability to combine for three tries. The Hurricanes played with freedom and were rewarded.

Up front, the scrum was doing a job for the Hurricanes, consistently getting the better of their Blues counterparts early on, and they hit the breakdown hard.

The Blues had moments of their own in the first half but didn’t get things right and missed their opportunities to put points on the board.

It took a Mark Tele’a intercept try to open the scoring for the visitors after a Moorby double had given the hosts a 14-0 lead, and the Blues trailed 17-7 at the break.

Things got more stretched for the visitors’ bench early in the second half when replacement prop Jordan Lay was forced from the field just four minutes after being substituted into the fray at halftime. Tele’a was also forced off with 10 minutes remaining.

For all the adapting the Blues had to do, they put their heads down and got on with the job after seeing Naholo extend the Hurricanes’ lead just two minutes into the second stanza.

The Blues hit back through Kurt Eklund moments later, but the Hurricanes were able to keep them at arm’s length for most of the second half.

The Hurricanes then extended their lead through Riley Higgins, who benefitted from some impressive work from Naholo in the lead-up.

While Ricky Riccitelli got one back for the visitors, a last-second penalty goal that would have given the Blues a bonus point hit the post and bounced back out, summing up their night.

The win saw the Hurricanes maintain their unbeaten run to start the season, alive, while it was the Blues’ first loss of their campaign.