Every week of Super 15 action is saturated by inventive play and fantastic tries, but Beauden Barrett's score for the Hurricanes against the Stormers last Friday was extremely special
If a tumultuous finale to the Six Nations taught us one thing, it is that running rugby and high-scoring clashes are very enjoyable.
Razor-witted South African sportswriter Sean Wilson highlighted as much in the aftermath, light-heartedly tweeting about how the northern hemisphere seemed intoxicated with excitement thanks to a few five-pointers.
Regular viewers of the Super 15 are well accustomed to helter-skelter encounters. While praise from avid fans can hit hyperbole – there is the odd error-strewn kick-fest, if we’re honest – the competition is a fantastic product that boasts high levels of skill and ambition.
Chris Boyd’s Hurricanes are a wonderfully watchable outfit and top the charts for both of those attributes. Fittingly, they have set the pace so far and are sitting on seven consecutive victories following Friday’s 25-20 triumph over the Stormers.
Three tries punctuated the opening 40 minutes as the hosts steamed into a 25-3 half-time lead at Westpac Stadium. The last of these, a length-of-the-field effort finished off by supremely talented All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett, amounted to precisely 27 seconds of sporting brilliance.
Before anything else, feast your eyes on the sweeping movement in its entirety:
Credit: Matthew Chomiczewski
Especially when sides from New Zealand hit their straps, the most aesthetically pleasing attacks are founded on simplicity. This try saw the ball transferred between teammates 10 times. But it owed far more to collective coherence and rock-solid basics than rabbit-out-of-a-hat magic.
Here is a run-down of how Hurricanes produced a symbiotic piece of poetry in motion.
Nuggety, South Africa-born loosehead prop Reggie Goodes only turned 23 this weekend but has been a stand-out of Hurricanes’ campaign. Solid enough at set-piece, his handling and deceptive power make him mightily effective in the loose as well.
Another string to Goodes’ bow is the breakdown, and he sparked this counter with a textbook ruck turnover:
Involved in the initial tackle on Stormers scrum-half Nick Groom, Goodes shows discipline and technique. First, he releases the tackled player, demonstrating clear daylight between himself and Groom by shooting his hands outwards (as indicated by the white dotted line with arrows on either end):
Referee Rohan Hoffmann can be sure Goodes is fine to latch onto the ball, which he duly does amid the attentions of Eben Etzebeth:
Etzebeth’s body position is good for the clear-out, but Goodes snaffles possession before falling backwards towards his teammates:
Hurricanes can rally around the stealer and barrel over the ball to secure it.
Shields stays calm
Just five metres out from their own line, it would be easy for Hurricanes to panic. You would probably forgive TJ Perenara for hacking the ball into the stands.
However, as is proven so often, turnover ball is the most dangerous situation from which to attack. Regardless of the area on the field, a quick transition from defence to attack is likely to catch your opponents in a disorganised state.
For that reason, Perenara sends a looping pass into midfield. Obviously, given that the Hurricanes are in their defensive structure, they do not have a recognised playmaker at first receiver. Instead, flanker Brad Shields is there.
However, another feature of New Zealand rugby is that players in every position tend to be more comfortable in a decision-making role. Even in the shadow of his own posts, Shields collects calmly. Aware that the space is further out, he shifts onto Ma’a Nonu straightaway:
As Nonu passes along the line to Cory Jane, look at Shields. Rather than crab across and in behind the carrier, he heads straight upfield. Support play is about anticipation, and Shields has second-guessed the path of his wing. At the top of the screen, Perenara sets off in a similar direction:
Jane goes dancing
Defence has become an exercise in perfectionism these days, so many punters have emphasised a rather half-hearted tackle attempt from Damian de Allende.
It was not the Springbok centre’s finest effort certainly, but Jane’s step to beat him is electric. Following up on the support line mentioned earlier, Perenara can gather before setting Shields away:
Exploding off his right foot, Jane beats de Allende, but it is what he does with both arms that manufactures the opening.
Sheer pace and a subtle block from Nonu mean covering defenders Steven Kitshoff and Siya Kolisi are stretched. Jane can fend Kolisi with his left hand before looping the pass with his right:
Now comes the really clever part. Circled in yellow, we can see how Jane keeps hold of Kolisi following his hand-off. A small tug is enough to prevent the Stormer turning and Perenara is in the clear:
Perenara is a hugely potent running threat, but again selects a straightforward option. With opposite number, Groom, speeding up to cover, he simply draws the man and feeds Shields. From a wider angle, we can pinpoint Barrett for the first time:
Circled in yellow, the fly-half is almost treading water. Barrett knows he has the pace to catch up and hit a devastating support line when necessary.
By staying deep and delaying his involvement, he is ensuring he can see everything play out and get to precisely the right place.
A slick exchange
As Shields storms into the open, his composure and comfort in space is again so impressive. Holding the ball in two hands with his head up, he waits until full-back Cheslin Kolbe has committed by pointing his shoulders inwards before releasing the pass to Nonu:
Nonu, another to have touched the ball for the second time in the movement, turns Kolbe once more with an out-to-in angle.
He only gives the ball back to Shields after he has run beyond the Stormer and cut him off from the receiver, therefore taking a potential cover defender out of the equation:
From the opposite angle, this exchange – featuring a nonchalant, one-handed Nonu flick – seems very slick:
Rewinding a few seconds, we can track Barrett again. His anticipation kicks into overdrive as he makes a bee line for Shields’ left shoulder:
Though Demetri Catrakilis does well to track back and take down Shields, Barrett can latch onto an excellent pass from Shields:
On freezing the moment Shields releases, we can see six Hurricanes in close attendance as well as Nonu and Barrett:
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Over half the team has bought into this counter and come the whole way down the field with it. That is a sure-fire sign of a side in sync, displaying immense appetite to work for one another.
This try was almost as good as Carlos Spencer’s seminal score for the Blues against the Crusaders back in 2004. Expect more fireworks as the season goes on.