WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Prolific try scorer Ben Lam bagged a hat-trick as the Wellington Hurricanes earned a measure of revenge for their defeat in last year’s Super Rugby semi-finals with a 28-19 win over South Africa’s Lions on Saturday.
Lam took his season tally to 13 tries and Ardie Savea also crossed for the 2016 title winners, who failed to secure the bonus point and sit two points behind competition leaders and reigning champions Canterbury Crusaders in the standings.
The Lions, runners up in the last two seasons of Super Rugby, had tries from scrumhalf Nic Groom and flanker Marnus Schoeman either side of the break and another from replacement winger Sylvian Mahuza five minutes from time.
The visitors suffered a double blow as early as the eighth minute when hooker Malcolm Marx limped off with a knee injury and Lam, the latest powerful winger off the New Zealand production line, scored the opening try for the Hurricanes.
After failing to gather a pass out wide at the first attempt, Lam finally got the ball in hand and shrugged off two tacklers at the 22 metre line before racing down the left wing unopposed.
Marx’s absence perhaps contributed to the second try for the home side with the Lions losing their own lineout ball, Hurricanes centre Matt Proctor finding a gap in midfield and passing inside for openside Savea to score.
Lions scrumhalf Nic Groom dummied his way over the line from close range to cut the deficit to 14-7 at half-time but Lam barged aside another couple of tacklers to touch down in the left corner five minutes after the restart.
Nine minutes later and the winger had his hat-trick, finishing off a sweeping move which started with an electric burst in the midfield from flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who nailed a fourth sideline conversion to take the lead out to 28-7.
Schoeman powered over the line from close range three minutes later for another Lions try, though, and Mahuza pounced on turnover ball to race away for their third in the 75th minute.
The Johannesburg-based side pushed for another score to secure a bonus point and even though they failed, they retain a comfortable lead at the top of the South African conference as they head south to take on the Otago Highlanders next week.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly