Nonu drives Hurricanes to comeback win over Lions
Centre Ma’a Nonu scored one try and made two for his fellow All Black Hosea Gear as the Wellington Hurricanes came from behind to beat South Africa’s Lions 38-27 in their Super rugby clash on Saturday.
Trailing the perennial strugglers 20-8 after 35 minutes, the Hurricanes hit back with a 30-point purple patch in the Wellington rain to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat despite their playoff hopes having long disappeared.
All Black Nonu, who has had a quiet season by his standards as Crusaders centres Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean have hogged the limelight, was at his line-busting best as the Hurricanes took the game to the entertaining Lions.
Aaron Cruden did his bid to secure the back-up position to New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter no harm with the Hurricanes’ first try and 18 points from the boot, while test scrumhalf Piri Weepu played 77 minutes as he continued his return from injury.
“We took a leaf out of the Lions book and what they did to us in the first half and just held on to the ball and built pressure,” Hurricanes skipper Andrew Hore said in a pitchside television interview.
“We want to make sure we get something out of this year so we can get a good start to next year. You’ve also got that World Cup that you can’t hide from and a lot of boys are putting their hands up for that as well.”
The Lions, looking to build on last week’s upset victory over the Highlanders, were well worth their 20-15 halftime lead after tries from fullback Jaco Taute and skipper Doppies la Grange as well as 10 points from the boot of Elton Jantjies.
“I think we knocked off a bit just after halftime and let in three easy tries and that was the difference,” said La Grange. “[Nonu]‘s a quality player and he did well tonight.”
It was a characteristic midfield burst from the All Black that set Gear on his way to his first try after 36 minutes and, four minutes after Cruden had given the home side the lead with his third penalty, the 29-year-old burst through on an inside pass to claim one of his own in the 53rd minute.
Seven minutes later, Nonu’s clever flick up in the tackle allowed Gear to go over for his second, which Cruden converted before adding a 62nd minute penalty to give the home side a 38-20 lead.
The Lions kept at their task and the impressive Taute got his second try eight minutes from time, raising hopes of two bonus points that they were ultimately denied by solid Hurricanes defence.