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A 29-23 victory over the Sunwolves last night can only be described as a lucky escape for the Hurricanes, who eventually dug themselves out of a 23-7 hole to collect an extremely unconvincing four points.
The trip to Tokyo was meant to revitalise John Plumtree's side, who had been grinding out results that were more impressive than the processes they were produced from.
After having to play five gruelling New Zealand derbies in their first eight games, the Canes had done well to claim victories, but only one of them – 43-13 over the Brumbies – had any conviction. Two tight victories over the Highlanders and similarly close wins over the Waratahs and Stormers were mixed in with a draw with the Chiefs, and two thrashings at the hands of the Crusaders.
So, a visit to the home of the Sunwolves was meant to be an opportunity to put in a dominant performance – a task of seeming simplicity that meant Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea were left at home for their required All Blacks rest.
It was arguably one star too many missing, and the much-improved Sunwolves, winners twice already this season and having come within eight points on three further occasions, so nearly made them pay.
The hosts produced a frenetic, and fantastic, first half. Semisi Masirewa bagged a double, while Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco set up a try and spectacularly denied the Hurricanes one of their own, tipping the ball free of the grasp of TJ Perenara as he dove for the line.
Perenara had earlier crossed for the Canes, but their defence was providing massive holes for the Sunwolves to run, and handling errors were allowing additional counter-attack opportunities.
The Hurricanes defence had to scramble on multiple occasions to thwart kick-and-chase runaways, and the accurate boot of Hayden Parker knocked over three first half penalties and laid on a perfect cross-kick for Masirewa as the hosts took a stunning 23-10 halftime lead.
Finally, though, the Hurricanes came to life. Ngani Laumape's deft kick saw Ben Lam tiptoe down the left sideline and dot down, and Chase Tiatia displayed similarly silky footwork to pick up and plant the fruits of an Isaia Walker-Leawere chargedown.
Then, with 12 minutes remaining, Wes Goosen gave the hosts a taste of their own medicine, starting and finishing off a rapid kick and chase from halfway, which – at last – gave the Hurricanes the lead.
The Sunwolves wouldn't fold though, and the Hurricanes required some desperate defending and two mighty scrums to claim 2019's least flattering victory.
Hurricanes 29 (TJ Perenara, Ben Lam, Chase Tiatia, Wes Goosen tries; Fletcher Smith 3 cons, pen), Sunwolves 23 (Semisi Masirewa 2 tries; Hayden Parker 2 cons, 3 pens). HT: 10-23.