WELLINGTON – The Hurricanes saw off a gutsy challenge from Queensland Reds for a 38-34 win in Wellington Friday that extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches.
The Hurricanes scored five tries to four in a bruising encounter, including a brace for the Super Rugby competition's top scorer Ben Lam, now on 14 for the season.
The result puts the Hurricanes at the top of the ladder but Canterbury Crusaders can leapfrog them Saturday if they defeat Auckland Blues.
It also means Australian Super Rugby sides have now lost 40 straight matches against New Zealand opposition, a run that stretches back almost two years.
1️⃣0️⃣ straight. pic.twitter.com/bTMoywvvp2
But the Reds, coming off a 63-28 thrashing by the Sunwolves, were no pushover against the competition pacesetters.
They disrupted the Hurricanes' renowned backline, getting in their faces, and were chasing an upset result until the final siren.
“It was a great show of character from the lads,” captain Scott Higginbotham said. “We showed we can match it with the best and had opportunities to win but let some easy tries in.”
The Reds went ahead in the opening minutes when Jono Lance kicked a field goal from 40 metres.
The Hurricanes hit back when Beauden Barrett crossed for a try after latching onto TJ Perenara's pass from the back of the scrum.
The same pattern of Reds' penalty followed by Hurricanes' try was repeated, this time with Lam dragging two defenders over the line.
The Reds clawed one back when some strong scrummaging got them close enough to the line for giant prop Taniela Tupou to barge his way over.
They then claimed the lead through winger Filipo Daugunu's try only to surrender it when Blade Thomson's converted effort and a penalty gave the Hurricanes a 24-20 lead at half-time.
The Reds' desperate defence prevented two tries shortly after the restart as the Hurricanes' backline started to fire.
But there was nothing they could do when Lam went rampaging down the left wing, making it 31-20.
The Reds kept in touch when Jordan Petaia received an unlikely set-up from Tupou, with the burly forward thundering down the touch line, fending off Nehe Milner-Skudder, then dodging Perenara before offloading.
The sides exchanged tries again to make it 38-34 for the Hurricanes with five minutes to go, setting up a nail-biting finish.
The Reds' chance came with a penalty but they lost the ball at the lineout and the Hurricanes ran down the clock.