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Mid-year report card: Hurricanes

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Monday, June 18, 2018    Andy Burt    Getty Images

Played: 13
Won: 10
Lost: 3

Position: Second in NZ conference and fourth overall
Leading Points Scorer: Beauden Barrett (105)
Leading Try Scorer: Ben Lam (14)

THE STORY SO FAR
After dropping their first match away from home against the Bulls, the Hurricanes went on a 10-match winning rampage that left many pundits wondering how they would be stopped. But the wobbles hit before the June break with twin losses to the Crusaders and Highlanders leaving the Hurricanes perilously placed in second spot in the New Zealand Conference on 45 points. A second-place finish in the NZ Conference should be enough to secure a home quarterfinal. But with three rounds remaining, the Hurricanes will feel the heat from the Highlanders and Chiefs breathing down their neck.

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BEST PERFORMANCE
The Hurricanes pulled out a succession of powerful performances during their ten-match winning streak, but none were more impressive than their 29-12 victory over the Highlanders in round 6. The game started with a trade-mark Beauden Barrett try against the run of play before the Highlanders struck back with a Waisake Naholo double. But that was all the damage the Highlanders could inflict on an unwavering Hurricanes defensive line. A Ben Lam double strike was complimented by a spectacular side line finish from Vince Aso to secure the comfortable victory.



BREAKOUT STAR
There are no surprises here. In his first season of regular game time in Super Rugby, wing Ben Lam has set the competition alight. In 13 appearances, Lam has crossed for 14 tries – just one away from the single season try scoring record of 15 tries held by Joe Roff (1997), Rico Gear (2005) and Ngani Laumape (2017). At 1.94cm and 105kg, Lam is an imposing physical specimen. When adding in his electric pace and finishing ability, Lam is a try-scoring machine. Whether bulldozing over from close to the line or out-pacing cover defenders, Lam has become a cult hero at Westpac Stadium and will be crucial cog in their championship hopes. 


WHAT’S NEXT

The Hurricanes have a tough run home with a clash away from home against a resurgent Brumbies side followed by two New Zealand derbies.

ROUND 17: Brumbies v Hurricanes, 9.45pm, Saturday June 30, GIO Stadium, Canberra
ROUND 18: Hurricanes v Blues, 7.35pm, Saturday July 7, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
ROUND 19: Chiefs v Hurricanes, 7.35pm, Friday July 13, FMG Stadium Waikato

PREDICTION
Provided the Hurricanes can win two of their final three matches, they should cling onto second place in the New Zealand Conference and secure a home quarterfinal. The Hurricanes have made such a fortress of Westpac Stadium that they should vanquish any quarterfinal opponent regardless of what conference they come from. That could well set up a crunch semifinal in Christchurch against the Crusaders with the winner being my pick to go on and lift the overall crown.