For all those ex-Hurricanes: Dane Coles leads franchise to maiden Super Rugby crown
Wellington-based side end 20 years of frustration to beat Golden Lions 20-3 in final
The Wellington Hurricanes ended a 20-year nightmare on Saturday when Beauden Barrett in scintillating form engineered a 20-3 victory over the Golden Lions for their maiden Super Rugby title.
On a miserable, wet night in Wellington, man-of-the-match Barrett was everywhere for the Hurricanes and settled the outcome with an audacious try 12 minutes from time.
“There’s been a lot of sorrow for this club and tonight we can finally say we’re champions for a Hurricanes team that’s been trying for a lot of years,” said captain Dane Coles.
“To bring a championship to the Hurricanes franchise is just awesome.
“You look back at guys like Conrad (Smith), Norm Hewitt, all those ex-Hurricanes boys who have tried to win the trophy and for me that was a massive motivation.
“There were so many Hurricanes legends who couldn’t get that, so to just bring it to the franchise for the ex-players, the region, I’m just proud to be a Hurricane right now.
“It’s bigger than us; it’s bigger than this team. People deserved it but didn’t get it but just to say the Hurricanes finally won a championship is just outstanding.”
There were tumultuous scenes in the packed stadium as the Hurricanes, a team which often promised plenty but never delivered, became the fifth New Zealand side to be crowned Super champions.
The atrocious conditions dictated the outcome would rest on which of the rival fly halves Barrett and Elton Jantjies could best direct play.
It was a kicking duel Barrett won as he kept returning the Hurricanes to point-scoring positions despite the Lions dominating territory.
Cory Jane also scored for the Hurricanes with Barrett adding two conversions and two penalties while the Lions points came from a sole Jantjies penalty.
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley accepted the Hurricanes deserved to win, but said his side only back in the competition three years since being dumped, would continue their meteoric rise next year.
“We feel the best is yet to come. This is only the start for us. We’ll have the same squad next year and we’ll learn from this,” Whiteley said.
It has been a long road to the top for the Hurricanes who lost the 2006 and 2015 finals as well as being beaten five times in the semi-finals.
But 2016 was not going to elude them, particularly with their local knowledge of Wellington’s wintry conditions while the arduous travel from South Africa eventually told on the Lions as the game wore on.
When the Lions used their big men to ram a pathway forward in the first half they were stopped in their tracks time and again as Brad Shields and Victor Vito, in his 100th game, led a bruising defence.
If the Lions went wide they were rattled by the Hurricanes line speed which directly led to the opening try.
Lionel Mapoe was forced to rush a clearing kick which went straight into the arms of Jane a few metres away and the former All Black wing had an easy run to the line.
The Hurricanes thought they had first points on the board six minutes into the game when Jane fielded a Barrett cross kick and crossed the line wide out only to be brought back for an earlier knock on.
But Jane was not to be denied the second time and with Barrett and Jantjies exchanging penalties the Hurricanes led 10-3 at the turn.
The Lions believed they had a try scoring chance late in the first half when they turned down a close-range penalty in favour of a scrum only to be pushed off the ball by a Canes pack that was otherwise beaten in every other scrum.
A further Barrett penalty early in the second half extended the lead to 13-3 and as the Lions desperately tried to close the gap Barrett settled the outcome 12 minutes from the end.
The Lions won a defensive line-out only to fumble the ball which allowed the ever-alert Barrett to race through to score under their noses.
Additional reporting Reuters