Tries from Cory Jane and Beauden Barrett have given Victor Vito the perfect send-off as the Hurricanes claimed their maiden Super Rugby title with a 20-3 win over the Lions.
Vito was able to celebrate his 100th and final match for the Wellington-based side in style on Saturday night as the Hurricanes finally ended their title drought.
Tries were at a premium in the wet, cold and windy conditions as the match became a battle of attrition rather than an exhibition of free-flowing rugby.
But the Hurricanes – who were boosted by the return of captain Dane Coles to their starting line-up – have shown in recent weeks just how good they are at soaking up pressure then pouncing on opportunities.
It was no different in Wellington as Jane and Barrett scored off Lions mistakes and Barrett chipped in with 10 points from the boot to spark joyous scenes in the capital.
The Lions, who had been perennial strugglers in the competition even before South African rugby politics resulted in their relegation in 2013, have come a long way.
But in the white-hot atmosphere of a final they couldn’t find a way to unlock the Hurricanes defence, while No.10 Elton Jantjies had an off night in front of goal, missing two of his three kicks.
Going into the match, the Lions had scored 81 tries, while the Hurricanes hadn’t conceded a try in 221 minutes of rugby, and it was the Hurricanes defence that held sway, keeping the Lions to just two shots at goal in the first half.
The opening 10 minutes saw Jantjies miss an early penalty and then Jane have a try disallowed after the TMO ruled Brad Shields had knocked the ball on in the build-up.
But the veteran winger was not to be denied on 22 minutes, when the Hurricanes defence again proved its worth.
Jantjies threw a wild pass under pressure in his own 22, which forced Rohan Janse van Rensburg to kick, but the ball went straight to Jane, who raced in at the corner.
Barrett slotted the conversion to add to his 11th-minute penalty to give the Hurricanes a 10-0 lead.
Jantjies reduced the deficit with a penalty three minutes later.
The remaining 15 minutes were an arm wrestle as both sides continued to struggle to hold on to the wet ball and turned instead to kicking for territory.
It was more of the same in the second half as the Lions continued to run into a yellow-and-black wall and the Hurricanes soaked up the pressure.
Barrett extended his side’s lead to 13-3 with another penalty midway through the second spell.
And the match was effectively sealed 11 minutes from fulltime when the Lions botched a lineout clearance close to their own line.
Replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli hacked the ball on and the All Blacks fly-half pounced on it in the in-goal area for his side’s second try.