The Hurricanes held on for a narrow 10-6 victory over the Highlanders in an error-filled match.
The Highlanders camped in the Canes 22m in the final quarter, but were repelled by some dodged defence. The Highlanders, however, should have closed out the match long before those desperate final minutes.
When they review this performance theyâ€™ll establish that poor ball protection at the breakdown and unforced handling errors was the primary reasons for the defeat.
They completely dominated possession and territory (75% possession) but failed to punish the sluggish Canes. The Wellington unit were a shadow of the side that blitzed the Chiefs last week, further strengthening the perception that they are too inconsistent to be considered serious title contenders. A better side would have put them away in the first half, and theyâ€™ll be acutely aware that their performance this evening will not be good enough when they face the Brumbies in Sydney next week.
The Highlandersâ€™ best opportunity fell to openside flank Alando Soakai, who knocked on from an overcooked Andrew Hore defensive lineout. Piri Weepu had earlier shown some real ticker in wresting the ball from Paul Williams as he was in the process of crossing the tryline.
The Canes were content to sit back and absorb the pressure (they made 103 tackles to the Highlandersâ€™ 70). In fairness, they were never stretched by a Highlanders backline who were far too lateral, while in the forwards, only No 8 Steven Setephano, troubled the Canes with his powerful surges.
That patience reaped rewards when the Canes effected a turnover in their 22m and sent the ball through the hands – Jerry Collins rounding off the move. Gopperth added a conversion to an earlier penalty for a 10-0 lead.
The Highlanders continued to press, opting to chip away at the deficit with penalties. James Wilsonâ€™s boot got them to within four points but the fullback missed with two attempts, the easiest a 25m effort dead in front of the posts, on the stroke of half-time.
Daniel Bowden took over the kicking duties but he too sliced a 30m effort horribly wide. The Highlanders woes were compounded when they couldnâ€™t punish a 14-man Canes – Maâ€™a Nonu getting binned for a crunching high tackle thatâ€™s bound to elicit a reaction from the citing commissioner.
With five minutes to go the hosts rumbled into the Canes’ red zone, but coughed up possession when it mattered most. Strangely, Bowden attempted a cross-kick after they had controlled the ball through 14 phases post-siren. The kick was poorly weighted and gathered easily by Hosea Gear who marked and punted the ball into the stands to end the match.
Highlanders – Penalty: James Wilson (2)
Hurricanes – Try: Jerry Collins. Conversion: Jimmy Gopperth. Penalty: Gopperth.