JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The Wellington Hurricanes made sure of home advantage in the Super Rugby playoffs as they beat the Lions 37-17 away at Ellis Park on Saturday in a convincing victory.
The Hurricanes turned up the heat in the second half, after a 10-10 stalemate at the break, to ensure they will finish a comfortable second behind holders Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand Conference and play their quarter-final in Wellington.
They won despite star pivot Beauden Barratt mysteriously pulling out of the starting line-up just before the kick-off, in an unexplained withdrawal.
His absence was barely noticed as TJ Perenara and Jordie Barrett’s tactical kicking pinned back the home side in the first half and then Ben Lam and Dane Coles scored two tries each in a dominant second-half performance.
Ngani Laumape also scored as the Hurricanes took an early lead but that was quickly negated by Lions speedster Aphiwe Dyantyi, whose kick ahead was followed by a mix-up in the Hurricanes’ defence and allow him to collect the loose ball and go over for a 7-7 score.
Shaun Reynolds, preferred as starting flyhalf to Springbok Elton Jantjies, kicked over a penalty to put the Lions ahead at 10-7 after 20 minutes but it was the last time the hosts would have their noses in front.
Jordie Barrett’s 39th-minute penalty ensured parity at the break before the New Zealand visitors turned in a dominant second-half showing.
Lam scored immediately at the resumption as the Lions dropped the kick-off and then got a second try seven minutes later.
Coles came off the bench to make a major impact with two more tries, with fellow All Black Aride Savea also appearing as a substitute to help ensure Hurricanes dominance.
Dyantyi scored a second try for the Lions in the second half but it was a mere consolation for the home team, whose own playoff hopes are now in peril after finishing Super Rugby runners-up over the last three years.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Clare Fallon)