CANBERRA, Australia (AP) Hooker Dane Coles had a critical hand in a match of comebacks, helping defending champions the Hurricanes beat the ACT Brumbies 35-16 in the first Super Rugby quarterfinal on Friday.
Coles took the field as a first-half replacement for his first Super Rugby match since March when he was diagnosed with concussion while recovering from knee and ankle injuries. His break in the 69th minute set up a decisive try for scrumhalf TJ Perenara as the Hurricanes were forced to work hard to beat the Brumbies, who started as massive underdogs.
Winger Wes Goosen scored a try in each half to contribute to a scoreline which flattered the Hurricanes, who took 48 minutes to claim the lead for the first time.
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The Hurricanes were under pressure when they trailed 16-15 at halftime and went a man down just before the break when prop Jeff To’omaga-Allen was sin-binned for a dangerous shoulder charge.
But they weathered that and took the lead, while down to 14 men, with a penalty to center Jordie Barrett, who ended the match with 20 points from a try, three conversions and three penalties.
The Hurricanes struggled to hold possession in the first half and allowed the Brumbies to gain a territorial advantage and dictate play. The home side took an early lead with a try to winger James Dargaville and increased that advantage with another to hooker Josh Mann-Rea.
The Hurricanes replied with Goosen’s first try and a freakish try scored by Barrett when a teammate headed the ball over the Brumbies tryline. Prop Ben May received a pass from Perenara full in the face and Barrett had the presence of mind to beat the defense to the ball behind the line.
The tenor of the match changed in the second half as the Hurricanes settled down and took control. They seized a massive amount of possession and spent most of the half camped within the territory of the Brumbies, who defended bravely but eventually succumbed to fatigue.
Perenara’s try, created by Coles, was a heart-breaker for the home side, who found themselves 28-16 down with only 10 minutes remaining. Their heads dropped and the Hurricanes were able to take advantage with a late try to Goosen.
The match also saw the return to Super Rugby of Brumbies and Australia utility back Christian Leali’ifano, 11 months after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Leali’ifano took the field as a replacement near halftime and added solidity to a mainly defensive effort in the second half. He received a bone marrow transplant in late 2016 and was told in February his cancer was in remission.
In quarterfinals on Saturday, the Crusaders will play the Highlanders in Christchurch, the Lions will host the Sharks in Johannesburg, and the Stormers meet the Chiefs in Cape Town.