In Dane Coles' final game at Sky Stadium, a strong Wellington crowd came along to cheer their team on, having viewed the New Zealand U20's rugby team as a curtain-raiser. After being stuck behind in an 8-19 half-time margin, the Hurricanes went up a gear and won the game, doing so with the same margin as their U20 counterparts, though the scoreline was different at full-time, adding up to 27-26.
Having become whipping boys to the Brumbies in recent years, are the Hurricanes about to head to Canberra victorious, having smite a colossal opponent this evening? Well everyone, let's have a round-up of the Hurricanes' performance from jersey number 1 to 23, to see how they've impacted the team's momentum.
HURRICANES PLAYER RATINGS
Having missed the entirety of the season with a groin injury, Hurricanes utility back, Ruben Love (pictured for Wellington in 2022), finally returned off the bench. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Tevita Mafileo (6/10)
Aside from responsibility for his side's only collapsed scrum, Mafileo had a decent outing. Did his job with ball-in-hand for 5 metres off 5 carries and 2 passes, while defending efficiently with 8/8 tackles and 1 turnover. Played a hefty share of minutes, with 64 in total.
Hooker - Dane Coles (6/10)
As expected, Coles bought his scrappiness to the pitch and was penalised on one occasion as a result, but backed his talk up at least. Coles made his team's third-most tackles with 11/13 and won 1 turnover shortly before his final exit from the grounds, so will be pleased with the outcome.
Tighthead Prop - Tyrel Lomax (7/10)
Lomax was quiet on attack, with his stat sheet displaying 3 metres, 3 carries and 3 passes and most would assume laziness. When viewing the game though, one would have noticed a significant effort from Lomax to slow opposing ball at the breakdown, which eventually worked well in his side's favour. Won a scrum penalty shortly before departing.
Lock 4 - James Blackwell (7/10)
Selected with a physical locking partner, Blackwell was enabled to play industriously and worked well with Lomax in the breakdown. Made 11 metres off 7 carries, 5 passes and 1 turnover; though his "sweeper" role on defence did bring his tackle rate down to 12/17.
Lock 5 - Caleb Delany (9/10)
Initial metres gained for the utility forward showed 8 off 5 carries, but it would be nice to see Delany's post-contact tally, that would be very high. Opponents will be hurting badly from tackling him. In just 58 minutes, Delany was also the team's top tackler, with 13/14.
Blindside Flanker - Devan Flanders (6/10)
Didn't stand out either positively or negatively, just came along to do his job and it was done well. Flanders beat 2 defenders while running his 5 metres from 5 carries, was reliable in the lineout and was subbed off with a rate of 8/9 tackles.
Openside Flanker - Ardie Savea (9/10)
Shifted to 7 in the absence of Peter Lakai and Du'Plessis Kirifi, but remains a gun player from that jersey. Produced a stunning effort with 52 metres, 3 defenders beaten, 1 clean break, 11 carries, 6 passes, 2 offloads and 11/11 tackles. Savea truly is timing his run of form correctly and holding back for the World Cup is now paying dividends.
Number 8 - Brayden Iose (8/10)
Correctly yellow-carded by the referee early on, but certainly made up for it with the winning try to show genuine awareness of the space. Samoa will have a keen eye on Iose's stat sheet that included 35 metres, 3 defenders beaten, 1 clean break, 8 carries and 7/7 tackles.
Halfback - Cam Roigard (8/10)
If Ian Foster cares for form, Roigard will still be on the radar. While he's uncapped, the 22-year-old has to be the most-improved player of 2023. His 10 carries were all strong, notably adding up to 62 metres and 8 defenders beaten and while a few passes can come into question, Roigard's tackle rate of 7/8 and good discipline, will make him a stable of the Robertson-era All Blacks.
First Five - Brett Cameron (7/10)
Aidan Morgan was rested, Harry Godfrey was at 15 for the U20's, so it was only natural for the former All Black to start. Cameron showed solid awareness of the game in his 19 passes and 3 offloads, while his goal-kicking made the difference in the end. A cool effort.
Left Wing - Kini Naholo (9/10)
Though his massive linebreak didn't quite lead to a try, Naholo's all-round effort must be praised. 147 metres, 7 defenders beaten, 2 clean breaks, 8 carries, 1 pass, 4/4 tackles and 1 turnover is the kind of game for a winger to dream of and Naholo achieved exactly that. A late All Blacks possible?
Second Five - Jordie Barrett (7/10)
Rife with poor performances over the last few weeks, we finally got some glimpses of Barrett in open space as he ran 34 metres and beat 1 defender off 12 carries. While his second-receiver instincts remain a work-on as Ian Foster will look to put him back at 15, they're starting to show signs of existence, as his 17 passes and 3 offloads were mostly well-timed.
Centre - Billy Proctor (7/10)
Picked his moments to come onto the ball correctly in the second half, having had a quiet first half. Proctor's defence has improved in 2023, as a tackle rate of 9/11 has showed tonight. Beat 1 defender on his way to score a crucial try, making the most of a defensive lapse by Fainga'anuku.
Right Wing - Dan Sinkinson (7/10)
With Salesi Rayasi and Julian Savea gone for the season, we got solid work out of the 22-year-old. Sinkinson only got to run 20 metres and 1 clean break off his 5 carries but showed strong awareness of space off the boot during his performance. He'll also be glad with 4/4 tackles.
Fullback - Josh Moorby (8/10)
Running rampant in open space for the second half, completing 3/3 tackles in the first half. The story of Josh Moorby in 2023 is another year of big improvements, while he ran the 57 metres, made 1 clean break and beat 2 defenders off his 13 carries. Rewarded with a try for his efforts.
Reserve Hooker - Jacob Devery (8/10)
Not the biggest bloke for a hooker, but plays like a much heavier man. Grunted through 15 metres off 5 carries, while contributing 1 pass, 1 offload and 3/4 tackles in his well-disciplined 25-minute effort. Devery is certainly showing his quality now that he's injury-free.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Pouri Rakete-Stones (No rating)
The number 17 came on with just 15 minutes to go and did not play enough to be rated.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Owen Franks (7/10)
Sealed off the Crusaders' turnover chances completely with a switched-on ruck approach. Franks' scrum prowess remains at 35 years old, while he took the ball for a spin and will be satisfied with 4 metres and 1 defender beaten off 4 carries. 3/3 tackles completed.
Reserve Lock - Justin Sangster (No rating)
Played 22 minutes off the pine after replacing Delany and didn't feature enough to be rated.
Reserve Loose Forward - TK Howden (No rating)
A late call-up for Kirifi, Howden played just 8 minutes and won't be rated, having made only 2 tackles.
Reserve Halfback - Jamie Booth (No rating)
Played for 11 minutes, so won't be rated either.
Reserve Utility Back - Ruben Love (No rating)
After being set to return in round 4 initially, due to a groin injury from pre-season, Love finally made it back for the Hurricanes. Love didn't touch the ball at all, so won't be rated, but it was brilliant to finally see him back.
Reserve Midfielder - Bailyn Sullivan (5/10)
Normally a centre, Sullivan replaced Sinkinson to play on the wing with 22 minutes left. Only got to run 3 metres off 1 carry, make 1 pass and 2/2 tackles. Didn't get to do much, but did nothing wrong, so should hopefully remain in contention for the quarter-finals.