AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The Wellington-based Hurricanes extended their winning streak in Super Rugby to nine games with a 36-15 win on Friday over the Auckland-based Blues, which had its 16th straight loss to a New Zealand rival.
Backrower Gareth Evans had a major influence on the game, scoring one try and creating another as the Hurricanes subdued a spirited Blues performance before drawing away to a convincing win in the second half.
The Blues edged ahead 15-14 after the third lead change of the match in the 49th minute. The Hurricanes, who have scored most of their points this season in the second half, finished strongly with tries to fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder, lock Sam Lousi and center Matt Proctor to keep pressure on the Christchurch-based Crusaders who started the round in first place.
While the Hurricanes star-studded backline was thought likely to be the key to the match, it was their forwards and especially the hard-working Evans, prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen and England recruit Brad Shields who played decisive roles.
The Hurricanes had the upper hand at set pieces and Evans and Shields worked hard to keep control when the Blues' effective rush defense caused breakdowns in the Hurricanes' back play. Toomaga-Allen and hooker Ricky Riccitelli carried well and worked hard in the loose.
"It was hard work and we knew these guys at home are very tough," Shields said. "They've got some very big boys but we knew if we carried strong, cleaned out strong and fronted on defense, it would go a long way to winning this game and also shutting down their set piece."
The Hurricanes opened with a set-piece try in the sixth minute. The Blues replied with a try to Orwyn Leger, from a pass by Sonny Bill Williams who returned after a long injury break with a broken wrist.
Evans caught the Blues napping to score from a tapped penalty in the 31st minute, giving the Hurricanes a 14-8 lead at halftime.
The Blues regained the lead immediately afterward with a try to prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi but the Hurricanes then gained control and finished more strong.
After Milner-Skudder's try, Evans won a lineout against the Blues' throw to make a try for Lousi. The Hurricanes then snatched a bonus point with a late try to Proctor.