The Highlanders claimed a 30-14 win over the Hurricanes in a fiercely contested New Zealand derby in Dunedin on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
This clash didn’t want for physicality and off-the-ball niggle. The Hurricanes’ defence was exceptional in the early stages, and both sets of players had to work hard for their tries.
The visitors looked to have gained the upper hand when Highlanders flanker Liam Squire was sent to the sin bin in the 38th minute. Squire was shown a yellow card after tackling Julian Savea and making contact with the winger’s neck.
The Hurricanes kept the ball alive after the half-time hooter, and then proceeded to surrender possession deep in Highlanders’ territory. At that point, one would have expected the 14-man Highlanders to put the ball in touch and take a breather.
The hosts, however, endeavoured to launch a counter-attack that culminated in a game-changing try. Like the Hurricanes, the Highlanders clearly weren’t interested in finishing the half with a three-pointer.
Aaron Smith took a quick tap penalty, Jackson Henopo managed to throw an outrageous offload before falling into touch, and Tevita Li finished what was a spectacular try. Against the odds and with a man in the bin, the Highlanders were 8-7 up at the break.
The hosts built on that lead when Ben Smith broke the line and found his scrumhalf in support. The Hurricanes regained the lead briefly, before Highlanders reserve prop Tyler Lomax crashed over from close range in the 61st minute.
The Highlanders showed no signs of tiring in the final quarter. Waisake Naholo jetted in for a try in the right-hand corner, and Lima Sopoaga added the extras.
Sopoaga slotted a further penalty in the 73rd minute to take the Highlanders’ 16 points clear of the Hurricanes and secure the win. Thereafter, the Hurricanes failed in their attempts to salvage a losing bonus point from the fixture.
The result sees the Crusaders enjoying some breathing room at the top of the New Zealand conference. The Highlanders have certainly improved their chances of hosting a playoff after claiming this win against the second-ranked side in the Kiwi division.
Highlanders – Tries: Tevita Li, Aaron Smith, Tyrel Lomax, Waisake Naholo. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2). Penalties: Sopoaga (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: Jordie Barrett, Jeff To’omaga-Allen. Conversion: Beauden Barrett (2).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (co-c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Kalolo Tuiloma, 2 Ash Dixon (co-c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita/Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen.
Photo: Dianne Manson/Getty Images