The Hurricanes powered past the Lions in the Wellington rain on Saturday night to win their round 16 Investec Super Rugby clash 38-27.
In a passionate performance, the Hurricanes came back from a 20-8 deficit after the opening half hour to pile on 30 unanswered points.
In an emphatic 25 minute period either side of halftime the Hurricanes scored three decisive converted tries, to left wing Hosea Gear (2) and second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu, and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden scored a try and added three penalties.
In this period, the Hurricanes overtook the Lions and surged to a match winning 38-20 lead with over 15 minutes still on the clock. Led by skipper and hooker Andrew Hore, lock James Broadhurst and loosehead prop John Schwalger in the forwards and try scorers Gear and Nonu further out, the Hurricanes played with superb commitment and control to create their win.
As well as blistering attack, a key to this win was outstanding defence, the Hurricanes forced to defend inside their own 22 for almost a quarter of the match and asked to make almost twice as many tackles throughout the game as the Lions.
The Hurricanes started the game with a taste of what was to come, an electric long-range counterattack from inside their 22 and a wide pass out to right wing Alapati Leiua getting the crowd on their feet. After a lovely run, Leiua was dragged down short of the line and then a stab kick by centre Jayden Hayward forced an attacking 5-metre scrum.
From the scrum, the Hurricanes attacked across the posts and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden skipped through from close range to score the game’s opening try.
With this try, the Hurricanes moved to 465 points against the Lions, creating a new record for most points aggregated against any Super Rugby side (previously 460 against both the Lions and the Brumbies).
The Lions replied with two successive penalties to first five-eighth Elton Jantjies and led they led 6-5 after 15 minutes.
The Lions pulled further ahead 10 minutes later with their first try to fullback Jaco Taute, chasing up his own kick and chase into the in-goal. Jantjies converted to give the visitors a 15-5 advantage.
Cruden pegged back three points almost straightaway with a penalty.
The Lions spun the ball wide across the Hurricanes 22 to centre and captain Doppies Le Grange, who powered through the Hurricanes defenders out wide to score their second try. Jantjies converted from the right-hand sideline and the Lions now led 20-8.
Then the Hurricanes launched their comeback.
The Hurricanes answered with an a fantastically worked try to Gear, running off the shoulder of a telling break in midfield off the top of a lineout by second five-eighth Nonu. Cruden’s conversion from just to the right of the posts closed the score to 20-15.
This try was the Hurricanes’ 55th against the Lions, a new record for tries scored against another individual franchise. The conversion of Gear’s try was also the Hurricanes’ 400th in all Super Rugby matches.
Cruden closed the gap to just two points with a penalty just after halftime, as steady rain started falling.
Cruden’s fourth penalty put the Hurricanes ahead 21-20 with about half an hour remaining.
A pinpoint Nonu stab kick into the right hand corner put pressure on Lions fullback Taute who failed to clear from near his tryline and the Hurricanes won a 5-metre scrum from which to attack from.
The Hurricanes moved the ball across the front of the Lions goalposts and second five-eighth Nonu busted through from close range to score his 43rd Super Rugby try under the posts. Cruden added the extras and the Hurricanes now led 28-20.
Leiua leapt high to contest a high up and under in broken play, forcing a Lions Knock-on and creating another attacking scrum in prime position just outside the 22.
From the next play, left wing Gear charged through on the shoulder of Nonu between Lions inside backs Jantjies and second five-eighth Butch James to score his second try of the evening, his 25th of his Super Rugby career and the Hurricanes’ fourth of the evening.
Cruden’s conversion now meant that the Lions had to score three tries to reclaim the lead with 20 minutes remaining.
Instead, the Hurricanes were awarded another penalty and Cruden obliged with a well-taken long-range strike. This increased the lead to 38-20 and the Hurricanes had now scored 20 unanswered points.
The Lions came back and scored their third try of the night and second to fullback Taute after a period of concerted pressure inside the Hurricanes 22. Second five-eighth Butch James converted to narrow the gap to 38-27 with five minute remaining.
From the kick-off, the Lions surged back up the other end and pressed hard over the remaining time to add further points. But the Hurricanes dug deep until the final whistle with more outstanding defence and held on for their fifth win of the 2011 season.
This was the third time in the last four matches that the Hurricanes have scored 38 points in a match against the Lions, also winning 38-12 in 2008 and 38-32 in 2009.
This win extended the Hurricanes’ record to 13 wins and three losses in 16 Super Rugby matches played against the Lions.
The Hurricanes’ next match is against the Chiefs next Saturday night in Hamilton.
Hurricanes 38 (Hosea Gear 2, Aaron Cruden, Ma'a Nonu tries; Cruden 4 pen, 3 con)
Lions 27 (Jaco Taute 2, Doppies La Grange tries; Elton Jantjies 2 pen, 2 con; Butch James con).
The scoring action by minute:
5th: Aaron Cruden try. Hurricanes 5-0
9th: Elton Jantjies penalty. Hurricanes 5-3
15th: Elton Jantjies penalty. Lions 6-5
24th: Jaco Taute try. Lions 11-5
26th: Elton Jantjies conversion. Lions 13-5
29th: Aaron Cruden penalty. Lions 13-8
31st: Doppies La Grange try. Lions 18-8
32nd: Elton Jantjies conversion. Lions 20-8
37th: Hosea Gear try. Lions 20-13
38th: Aaron Cruden conversion. Lions 20-15
42nd: Aaron Cruden penalty. Lions 20-18
49th: Aaron Cruden penalty. Hurricanes 21-20
52nd: Ma’a Nonu try. Hurricanes 26-20
53rd: Aaron Cruden conversion. Hurricanes 28-20
58th: Hosea Gear try. Hurricanes 33-20
58th: Aaron Cruden conversion. Hurricanes 35-20
63rd: Aaron Cruden penalty. Hurricanes 38-20
74th: Jaco Taute try. Hurricanes 38-25
75th: Butch James conversion. 38-27
The Hurricanes team was:
1. John Schwalger
2. Andrew Hore (c) Replaced by Dane Coles, 65th minute
3. Neemia Tialata Replaced by Jacob Ellison, 59th minute
4. Jeremy Thrush
5. James Broadhurst Replaced by Jason Eaton, 65th minute
6. Faifili Levave Replaced by Mark Reddish, 59th minute
7. Jack Lam
8. Victor Vito
9. Piri Weepu Replaced by Chris Eaton, 76th minute
10. Aaron Cruden
11. Hosea Gear Replaced by Richard Buckman, 79th minute
12. Ma’a Nonu
13. Jayden Hayward Replaced by Julian Savea, 53rd minute
14. Alapati Leiua
15. Cory Jane
16. Dane Coles
17. Jacob Ellison
18. Jason Eaton
19. Mark Reddish
20. Chris Eaton
21. Julian Savea
22. Richard Buckman Huricanes debut for Richard Buckman