Wellington (AFP) – Ben Lam bagged a hat-trick as the Wellington Hurricanes downed the Golden Lions 28-19 in Super Rugby on Saturday while the Auckland Blues upset the NSW Waratahs 24-21 to maintain New Zealand’s dominance over Australia.
The Hurricanes victory put them two points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference, but with a game in hand, while the Lions suffered their fifth loss but remain top of the South African division.
The Blues, meanwhile, remain the bottom New Zealand side and even though they were outscored by the top Australian team three tries to two they cashed in on penalties to give Kiwi sides their 38th consecutive win over their trans-Tasman rivals.
Lam, the leading try scorer in the competition and seen by many in New Zealand as an All Black-in-waiting, was a central figure in the Hurricanes win as he lifted his total of tries for the year to 12.
With his mix of pace and power, Lam is seen by the Hurricanes as a special weapon.
“He’s on fire. He’s playing really good football,” said captain Brad Shields while coach Chris Boyd believed Lam can only get better.
“He’s starting to realise the potential he’s got. He’s big and fast. He’s doing a good job for us but at the end of a good backline.”
The Hurricanes have been smarting since the semi-finals last year when they surrendered a 19-point lead to lose to the Lions 44-29.
They were determined to exact revenge and when they again took an early lead it was one which they would not surrender in a game which never reached great heights, in part because of a strong, swirling wind in the stadium.
Tries to Lam and Ardie Savea had the Hurricanes ahead 14-7 at half-time with scrum-half Nic Groom scoring for the Lions just before the break.
Savea’s try came from a stolen lineout as the Lions struggled with their throw after influential hooker Malcom Marx limped off the field early with a hamstring strain.
Lam scored twice more in the second half with Beauden Barrett converting all four Hurricanes tries as the forged their way to a 28-7 lead before the Lions staged a late comeback with tries to industrious flanker Marnus Schoeman and replacement wing Sylvian Mahuza.
– ‘We blew it’ –
The Blues win was only their third of the season, while the Waratahs have now lost three of nine.
The Waratahs wanted to play at pace but turnovers proved costly as the Blues cashed in on the errors to lead 18-14 at half-time.
In the second half the Waratahs tightened their game only to be confronted by an uncompromising Blues defensive wall.
“It was a massive effort from the boys. It’s massive for us,” said captain Augustine Pulu.
“We needed our big players to step up and have those big plays in those crucial moments.”
A disappointed Waratahs’ captain Michael Hooper believed his side had only themselves to blame.
“We created a lot of opportunity and then blew it. We were getting into their 22 easily,” he said.
Playing on Brookvale Oval, the homeground of the Manly Warringah rugby league side, the Waratahs had powerful ball-winning weapons in the form of Michael Wells, Michael Hooper and Will Miller.
But the Blues played smarter, favouring an attack through the middle while the Sydneysiders shaped to play wide.
For the Blues, Rieko Ioane and Tumua Manu scored tries with Stephen Perofeta landing a conversion and four penalties.
The Waratahs tries came from Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu and Hooper with Bernard Foley converting all three.