WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The red hot Wellington Hurricanes recorded their ninth straight Super Rugby win with a bonus point 36-15 victory over the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Friday, extending the home side’s winless streak against New Zealand opposition to 16 matches.
Tries from hooker Ricky Riccitelli, loose forward Gareth Evans, fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder, lock Sam Lousi and centre Matt Proctor were enough to see off a spirited Blues challenge and send the Hurricanes to the top of the standings.
The Blues, who had tries from centre Orbyn Leger and prop Ofa Tuungafasi either side of halftime, played plenty of enterprising rugby but were unable to match the discipline or the execution of the Hurricanes at key moments.
The Hurricanes lead the Canterbury Crusaders by three points in the New Zealand conference having played a match fewer than the reigning champions, who would be expected to return to the top after they host the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday.
The 2016 champions had beaten the Blues in their last five meetings and laid down an early marker when they kicked a penalty to touch and Riccitelli rumbled over the line on the back of the ensuing rolling maul in the sixth minute.
The Blues tried to emulate their opponents to get on the scoreboard but were unable to get their catch-and-drive going as efficiently and Stephen Perofeta slotted a penalty after 14 minutes instead.
The Blues hit the front 12 minutes later when Sonny Bill Williams, returning after six games out injured, broke the defensive line and lobbed the ball on the offload to his centre partner Leger, who scurried to the line to touch down.
The lead did not last long after the half-hour mark before Hurricanes number eight Evans caught the Blues napping with a quickly taken penalty, giving the visitors a 14-8 lead they held until eight minutes into the second half.
Referee Jaco Peyper was feeling unwell so was replaced at the break but the Blues came out firing with Tuungafasi forcing his way over the line for a converted try that gave the hosts a 15-14 lead.
The response from the Hurricanes was immediate and scrumhalf TJ Perenara, returning off the bench after injury, triggered a move which saw Milner-Skudder scurry over in the corner.
Lousi scored from close range on the hour mark to take the lead to 28-15 and Barrett added a penalty before Proctor sealed the bonus point with the try of the night from a cross-kick in the 78th minute.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien