WELLINGTON – In a match with nothing at stake but pride, an under-strength Hurricanes produced a stunning second-half comeback to down the Blues 29-24 in Wellington on Saturday.
Captain Dane Coles said it was a boost for the side heading into the play-offs knowing there was depth in the squad.
Regardless of the outcome, the Hurricanes knew in advance they will host a quarter-final next week while the Blues knew that even a win would leave them at the bottom of the New Zealand conference.
As a consequence, the Hurricanes opted to rest several stars including All Blacks Beauden and Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, with TJ Perenara on the bench, while the Blues welcomed back double World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams who had been sidelined by injury since early April.
The Blues, who have not won away this year and not beaten a New Zealand team away for six years, raced to an early 10-0 lead and by half-time were head 24-5.
Tanielu Tele'a, Caleb Clarke and Melani Nanai scored for the Blues with Otere Black landing three conversions and a penalty while Peter Umaga-Jensen's try was the sole reward for the Hurricanes.
But a stirring pep-talk at the break fired up the inexperienced Hurricanes who took take control for the remainder of the game, with their cause assisted by ill-discipline from the Blues.
"I'm stoked for the young lads," said Coles.
"We threw so many guys in at the deep end. It wasn't pretty in the first half but the way (they) responded with a rev-up at half-time, I'm just proud of the effort.
"If anything hits the fan (in the quarter-finals) we know those young boys can step in and do the job for us."
Tries to Fletcher Smith, Isaia Walker-Leawere and Peter Umaga-Jensen, all converted by Jackson Garden-Bachop, had the Hurricanes ahead for the first time at 26-24 in the 63rd minute.
Garden-Bachop added another three points with five minutes remaining when the Blues conceded their 11th penalty of the match.
Williams, who played the full game, mixed his trade-mark lay-offs with signs of rustiness in what was only his sixth and final Super appearance of the season.
However, he seems certain of an ongoing Test career with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen consistently endorsing the 33-year-old midfielder in talk about his likely squad for this year's World Cup.AFP