7 Aug 2016

Hurricanes' defence on song in the rain

11:32 am on 7 August 2016

Sports Call - A wall of yellow and black drove back waves of red shirts in Wellington's driving rain last night, writes Max Towle.

Dane Coles celebrates the Hurricanes' Super Rugby final win over the Lions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

Dane Coles celebrates the Hurricanes' Super Rugby final win over the Lions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo: PhotoSport

The Hurricanes have ended 20 years of hurt and banished the ghosts of last year with a grinding 20-3 win over South Africa's finest, the Lions.

As masterful as first-five Beauden Barrett was, it was the home side's defence which shone most in the biting cold.

It takes some kind of team to keep its opponents try-less through the playoffs.

Its blitzing line speed kept the Lions on the back foot and allowed Cory Jane and Barrett to pounce on errors for their tries.

The Canes have tough boys in the middle - it seems an age since Ardie Savea announced he was switching to Sevens - now he would be a good shout for player of the season.

A warrior through the middle, Savea was the only player in Super Rugby with more than 200 tackes this season, with 206.

On Thursday afternoon, Ricky Riccitelli was the last man back in the sheds after training, last night his bloodied shirt betrayed his crunching effort.

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles with the Super Rugby trophy following the win over the Lions in Wellington.

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles with the Super Rugby trophy following the win over the Lions in Wellington. Photo: PhotoSport

The man he replaced, Dane Coles, has been the team's linchpin and encapsulates its all-for-one spirit.

Unlike stalwarts Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu last year, Cory Jane and Victor Vito will depart with finished business.

Jane's grin as he crossed the line for the first try was a mile wide.

The Hurricanes came up big at the set piece and manhandled the Lions' scrum.

Massive credit must go to Chris Boyd and his coaching staff for building the most disciplined Super Rugby team in years.

As for the Lions, the name in the spotlight fell apart on the night - Elton Jantjies.

After a stunning season in which he scored almost 200 points, last night he only found swarming opponents and when he did find time to pass, he was rushed.

His kicking was poor and his hands slippery.

Yet despite losing its first final, the South African side can walk away with high chins.

Perenially the country's worst team, their attacking, expansive football earned them deserved plaudits.

They are young and will be back.

Hurricanes player Beauden Barrett celebrates scoring a try during the
Super Rugby Final between the Hurricanes and Lions.

Hurricanes player Beauden Barrett celebrates scoring a try during the Super Rugby Final between the Hurricanes and Lions. Photo: PhotoSport

It was not a pretty game, unlike Barrett, who kept the ball on a string and played with a kind of humble swagger.

Despite a rocky start to the season, his kicking improved and last night was excellent; he deserved his man-of-the-match award and is surely now a guarantee for the All Blacks first XV.

In Super Rugby's inaugural season in 1996, the Hurricanes won three games and lost eight.

They've had great players since - Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga - yet no one thought it would be this group to end 20 years of pain.

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