Super Rugby Pacific: Hurricanes retain unbeaten record with last-gasp victory over winless champions Crusaders

Replacement forward Justin Sangster has scored a try in the dying seconds to snatch a 14-10 victory for the unbeaten Hurricanes over the hapless Super Rugby Pacific champion Crusader at Christchurch.

After a period of sustained pressure on the tryline, flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi took a quick tap kick to put the defence on the backfoot and Sangster plunged over from the breakdown to dash southern hopes, as the titleholders suffered their record fourth defeat to start the season.

The Hurricanes open up a seven-point margin atop the competition ladder, with a weekend of games still to come, while the Crusaders sit one off the bottom, after earning a hard-won bonus point.

Justin Sangster has the tryline in sight for the Hurricanes.
Justin Sangster has the tryline in sight for the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport

"We're trying really hard, it's just not sticking," reflected Crusaders captain David Havili. "We gave ourselves a chance in the contest tonight and couldn't really finish it off.

"It's frustrating, but the boys have got to stick tight and we're up for another big battle next weekend. Proud of the boys' effort.

"If we can build phases, we can punish teams, but at the moment, we can't get over a certain amount of phases to do that. It is frustrating at times, but the boys are trying their guts out."

The home side had the first chance to put points on the board, but rookie first-five Riley Hohepa, in his first outing for the southerners, badly hashed his penalty attempt from a handy position.

The Hurricanes had a great opportunity to open their account, when the defence could not control a miscued kick from halfback Cam Roigard and winger Josh Moorby toed ahead, but was denied by counterpart Sevu Reece in cover.

That initial thrust was thwarted, but a subsequent penalty resulted in an attacking scrum and a try to All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax. For the longest time, that was the only difference in the match.

Opportunities were hard to come by in cold and greasy conditions. Reece was called on again to chase down Moorby, when Hohepa threw a dusty pass behind his backline.

Crusaders winger Macca Springer found space down the left and chipped to the tryline, but fullback Ruben Love was present to prevent any damage.

The Hurricanes carried a 7-0 advantage into halftime, but Reece was again prominent in defence soon after the restart, making a tackle and stealing a breakdown turnover to halt another promising attack.

Crusaders centre Levi Aumua made a promising bust inside the Hurricanes half, but Roigard robbed opposite Willi Heinz of the ball and raced the length of the field to touch down, only to be called back for the knockon.

Almost immediately, Aumua - a significant signing who has struggled for form this season - was subbed off, replaced by veteran midfielder Ryan Crotty.

Finally, the home side put together several phases inside the 22 and No.8 Cullen Grace was driven across for a try. Hohepa made no mistake this time to level the scores.

The Crusaders were called on to grimly defend their line, after another dash from Roigard, but lock Jamie Hannah stole the ball and his team were able to clear downfield.

At an attacking lineout, they were awarded a penalty and Hohepa made amends for his early miss, slotting the go-ahead kick with 10 minutes to play.

Just seconds later, Hurricanes first-five Brett Cameron had a chance restore parity, but sliced his 40-metre attempt right of the uprights.  

Reece again stole the ball at breakdown to defuse another threat, but another break from Moorby saw hooker James O'Reilly pulled down centimetres from the tryline.

Veteran halfback TJ Perenara went close and the Crusaders lost Hannah to a yellow card, leaving his team shorthanded to defend their lead. From a scrum penalty, Kirifi took a quick tap and Sangster was next in line to retake the lead for the Hurricanes.

With seconds remaining, the Crusaders had one more chance, when they recovered their own kickoff, but their hopes were extinguished, when prop Owen Franks was penalised for head contact and yellow-carded.  

"It's a tough place to win, coming down here to play against the Crusaders outfit," said Perenara. "They haven't started the season the way they want to, but they're always a force to be reckoned with and getting a win over them down here is important to us.

"It hasn't happened a bunch of times, so we'll cherish it when we get one."

The Hurricanes will put their unbeaten record on the line at home against Melbourne Rebels next Friday, while the Crusaders' task doesn't get any easier, with a trip to Auckland to face the Blues on Saturday.

Hurricanes 14 (Lomax & Sangster try; Cameron 2 conversions) Crusaders 10 (Grace try; Hohepa conversion & penalty)