Super Rugby Pacific: Hurricanes take full advantage of misguided Blues gamble to remain unbeaten

Winger Josh Moorby has scored a try double, as the Hurricanes took toll of a shambolic Blues backline to remain unbeaten in 2024 Super Rugby Pacific, prevailing 29-21 at Wellington.

Expecting a physical forward encounter, Blues coach Vern Cotter gambled with a 6-2 bench split and lost, as two failed concussion checks exposed a shortage of back reserves, further compounded late in the contest, when the visitors lost a third and had to move a forward into the backline.

Both teams entered the fixture unbeaten after two rounds and the result puts the team from the capital clear atop the competition table.

Josh Moorby scores a try against the Blues.
Josh Moorby scores a try against the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

A typical NZ local derby began with intensity and the Hurricanes eventually broke the deadlock, after they pounced on a short goal-line dropout, and fullback Morgan Love chipped ahead and gathered. As the ball moved right, they found a three-man overlap and winger Josh Moorby accepted a long pass to score in the corner.

The Blues were in early injury trouble, when winger AJ Lam and fullback Zarn Sullivan both left for head checks. With only two backs on the bench, Cotter was obliged to play reserve halfback Taufa Funaki out of position, while those concussion checks were completed.

Regardless, first-five Stephen Perofeta nearly went over in the right corner, but they made a hash of a tap penalty in front of the posts to squander the opportunity.

Both Lam and Sullivan failed their tests, leaving the Blues backline exposed, and the Hurricanes exploited that, when Love threw another long pass to Moorby, with Funaki unable to cover the speedster, as he had his second try in the corner. 

Despite their predicament, the Blues grabbed a try back, when All Blacks winger Mark Tele'a anticipated a long pass from international teammate Cam Roigard and ran 60 metres to force between the posts.

Ahead 17-7 at halftime, the home team wasted no time stretching their advantage, as Roigard charged into the 22 and winger Kini Naholo enjoyed a two-man overlap on the left to score.

The Blues capitalised on a series of penalties on attack to drive hooker Kurt Eklund over from a close-range lineout.

Moorby kicked ahead and chased, with Tele'a forced to carry the ball behind his own goal-line and concede a five-metre attacking scrum, but the Blues were able to escape the threat. 

Moments later, Naholo showed his immense strength by slipping four tackles and finding second-five Riley Higgins on his shoulder to score a try that probably sealed victory.

The Blues backline suffered another blow, when Telea - probably their best player on the night - was monstered at a breakdown and took a blow to the face that forced him off the field.

Reserve lock Josh Beehre replaced him, with loose forward Hoskins Sotutu slipping into the backs. At the same time, veteran Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenata replaced Roigard, after missing almost two years with a pair of Achilles ruptures. 

Asafo Aumua leads the Hurricanes onto the field against the Blues.
Asafo Aumua leads the Hurricanes onto the field against the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

Despite the setbacks, the visitors still weren't buried, driving replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli over from an attacking lineout. They had eight minutes to score twice and received a lifeline, with a penalty that gifted them an attacking lineout.

As time ran out, the Blues won another penalty handy to the posts, with a chance to salvage a bonus point, but Perofeta missed the kick at goal and his team went home emptyhanded. 

"It's just the bounce of the ball, isn't it?" reflected Cotter. "That's why we love rugby, because you never really know what's going to happen.

"We were two backs down at the beginning of the game and I thought the guys adapted really well. Taufa Funaki did a good job on the wing... and Cole Forbes got a bit of gametime as well. Hoskins is adaptable, we knew, by putting him on the bench, he could cover everything.

"The guys did stick in there, when any other team could have become destabilised. If we'd got the bonus point, it could have been a good evening for us."

The Hurricanes face another test of their unbeaten start, when they visit the winless champion Crusaders on Friday, while the Blues will try to bounce back against NSW Waratahs on Saturday. 

Hurricanes 29 (Moorby 2, Naholo & Higgins tries; Cameron 3 conversions & penalty) Blues 21 (Tele'a, Eklund & Riccitelli tries; Perofeta 3 conversions)