Halai brace powers Blues past Hurricanes
Sportal.co.nz 23 Feb 2013 Getty Images
Halai's brace bookended five-pointers for Charles Piutau and Rene Ranger and the scoreline could have been bigger had Piri Weepu brought his kicking boots with him.
The halfback, playing his 100th Super Rugby game on his old stomping ground, missed four of his nine kicks but it failed to put a dampener on his celebrations.
The Hurricanes led 13-11 after a tight first 40 minutes thanks to a Julian Savea try and a conversion and two penalties from Beauden Barrett, but they were blown away in the second half which will have disappointed their coach Mark Hammett.
Halai scorched over in the corner in the 21st minute for the first try of the game after Weepu and Barrett had traded penalties in a scrappy opening quarter.
Both teams showed their attacking intent from the start with Blues flanker Steven Luatua making some strong carries and fullback Piutau and second-five Francis Saili making ground from the back for the visitors.
Alapati Leiua, playing on the right wing in place of the injured Cory Jane, was also busy for the Hurricanes.
But some early season rustiness meant some passes went astray and it was left to Weepu and Barrett to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
The Hurricanes led 6-3 when George Moala fended off Conrad Smith to set up Halai's score in the right-hand corner, which Weepu couldn't convert.
The powerful winger was untouched as he dived over to give the visitors the lead.
But five minutes later All Black winger Savea grabbed one back for the Hurricanes and Barrett's conversion gave the home side a 13-8 lead.
It was a patient build-up for Savea's 10th Super Rugby try. The Hurricanes recycled the ball well and it was simples draws and passes which gave the left winger the space to evade Ranger.
The Hurricanes could have had another just before the break when Smith fended off Blues first five-eighth Chris Noakes and popped the pass to the ever-lively TJ Perenara.
The halfback wasn't held in the tackle initially but lost the ball in contact just short of the line.
Weepu got the Blues back to within two points on the stroke of half-time with a long-range penalty.
The Hurricanes spent the first 10 minutes after the break on defence as the Blues camped in their 22.
As the ball was recycled time and time again through the forwards it was only a matter of time before the and Blues spun it wide to profit from the overlap created.
Tim Bateman rushed out of the line and quick ball from Moala put Piutau over in the corner to give the Blues the lead for the second time in the game. Weepu couldn't add the extras.
The game swung on a moment of controversy in the 57th minute when referee Glen Jackson, on the advice of TMO Vinnie Munro, awarded the Hurricanes a penalty try and sin-binned Halai.
The young Blues winger and All Black Savea were chasing a Barrett kick and Munro said Halai had deliberately batted the ball out of play to deny Savea the try.
It was a tough call because there was no absolute certainty the Hurricanes winger would have scored.
It didn't make the Blues retreat into the shells however and a superb break by Saili eventually resulted in a penalty kick for Weepu, which got the visitors back to within one point.
The lead changed hands again 10 minutes from time when Ranger powered over for the Blues' third try after getting through Smith, who left the field with concussion, and Victor Vito. Weepu again missed with the conversion.
But the Blues halfback was on target a few minutes later after Halai had grabbed his second and then he rounded off the match with a successful penalty.
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