Super Rugby Pacific: Blues hold off second-half comeback to inflict first Hurricanes loss of season

Just one NZ team remain unbeaten in Super Rugby Pacific 2023, after the Blues inflicted a 25-19 defeat on the Hurricanes in a closely contested local derby at Wellington's Sky Stadium.

Trailing 22-5 at halftime, the home side scored back-to-back converted tries to close within three points, but could not complete the comeback, allowing their archrivals to edge further clear with a penalty and unable to convert their attacking opportunities over the final tense moments.

After opening wins over two Australian sides - Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels - the Hurricanes were off to a steady start to their campaign, but lost captain Ardie Savea to suspension for their first local derby.

Blues huddle up against the Hurricanes
Blues huddle up against the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport

That setback balanced out midway through the first half, when Blues lineout kingpin Patrick Tuipulotu was injured scoring the opening try of the contest and had to leave the field, leaving his team exposed at the set-piece.

As the game wore on, the Blues lineout completely disintegrated, losing three consecutive throws from replacement hooker Kurt Eklund, as the Hurricanes mounted their rally.

Tries to winger Salesi Rayasi and fullback Josh Moorby brought them within striking distance of victory, while the Blues' other starting second-rower - Cameron Suafoa - sat out a yellow card for high contact.

With eight minutes remaining, Blues fullback Stephen Perofeta slotted a penalty that extended their lead to six points and the Aucklanders had to withstand a concerted attack to stay clear.

With seconds remaining, the Hurricanes won a penalty in front of the posts, but elected to tap. Another penalty saw them opt for a scrum, but a strong run from No.8 Peter Lakai was held up and the Blues cleared to escape further damage. 

"That's test-match footy, it comes down to the wire," reflected Blues captain Dalton Papali'i.

"There's no real words to say, you just have to trust that the boys will work for you, especially that look in their eyes, when they give away a penalty... it's just that will to win."

Blues No.8 Hoskins Sotutu won the goal-line turnover that finally nailed the result for his team.

"That was a bigtime play that we needed," said Papali'i. "We trust our players to make those plays and Hoskins came through, so big credit to him."

Tuipulotu scored the first try, when he won an attacking lineout and popped up again after a couple of phases to dive across the line.

Hurricanes prop Tyrel Lomax answered from close range, but Jordie Barrett uncharacteristically bounced his handy conversion off the uprights.

After a series of penalties, Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere was finally yellow-carded for playing the ball on the ground and during his absence, the Blues ran in tries to winger Caleb Clarke and Sotutu to inflate their halftime margin.

In the build-up to Rayasi's try, Suafoa was too high with his tackle on Moorby and paid the price, but there was an element of doubt around Moorby's five-pointer a few moments later.

The fullback gathered an offload from flanker Devan Flanders and evaded a couple of tacklers, as he lunged at the tryline. Replays suggested he lost the ball as he reached for the line and may even have come up short with his stretch, but referee Nic Berry and his crew were happy to award the try that set up the close finish.

The result means only the Chiefs are a perfect three-from-three, while ACT Brumbies could join them with success over the Reds later on Saturday.

Next Saturday, the Blues face a rematch of last year's final against the wounded Crusaders, after the defending champions crashed to Fijian Drua at Lautoka, while the Hurricanes must regroup against NSW Waratahs on Friday.

Blues 25 (Tuipulotu, Sotutu & Clarke tries; Perofeta 2 penalties & 2 conversions) Hurricanes 19 (Lomax, Moorby & Rayasi tries; Barrett 2 conversions)

Join Newshub for live updates of Super Rugby Pacific