Highlanders hang on in Wellington

JON CARDINELLI reports on the Highlanders’ 19-17 win against a plucky Hurricanes side on Saturday.

The Highlanders dominated territory for much of this contest, and had plenty of opportunities to put this young Hurricanes side away. But because of unforced errors, as well as the hosts’ determined defence, they were made to fight for this win right up until the final hooter.

The visitors shot to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, converting their territorial dominance into points. A typically aggressive showing at the breakdown forced the Hurricanes to impede regularly, and one sustained period of attack yielded a try from close range for Highlanders flyhalf Colin Slade.

And yet, the Hurricanes managed to hit back with 14 unanswered points before the end of the first half. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett edged them closer with a couple of penalties before the pack turned in a more disciplined and controlled showing to wrest back the momentum.

The backline also got involved in the fight at the gainline, and it was a tackle-busting run by wing Julian Savea that set up a sensational team try. Having taken play into Highlanders’ territory the hosts shifted the ball wide to Cory Jane, who showed why he is considered one of the world’s best finishers with a sublime surge and score.

Barrett failed to convert the try, but nailed another penalty to ensure the Hurricanes went to the break with a slender lead. It marked an incredible comeback, and if only the Hurricanes had maintained their intensity and accuracy in the second stanza they may have forced an upset.

The Highlanders continued to dominate territory at the start of the second half, but their finishing left a lot to be desired. They were also disrupted by the Hurricanes at the breakdown, and wayward lineout feeds robbed them of a decent attacking platform.

In the 60th minute, Slade missed a simple penalty attempt that would have stretched the visitors’ lead to four points, a handy advantage in such a tight contest. At the other end, Barrett held his nerve to sink a three pointer which edged his side ahead.

Finally the Highlanders got some reward for their field position. Reserve flyhalf Chris Noakes slotted a difficult penalty kick to regain the lead for the visitors, but with five minutes remaining, the game was far from over.

The Highlanders managed to withstand a final Hurricanes assault, and no doubt coach Jamie Joseph will be elated with the stat of four wins from as many games. However, he will be less than impressed with the missed scoring chances and dismal showing at the lineout.

The Hurricanes look to be a far more organised side than in previous years, although consistency is currently a problem. Their defence was impressive but they will regret their indiscipline at the breakdown as well as their inability to spend long periods in opposition territory.