Savea Hurricanes' saviour v Highlanders
The Hurricanes snatched a 26-20 victory over the Highlanders with a Julian Savea try sealing the outcome in the dying minutes of their Super Rugby clash in Dunedin on Saturday.
The revenge victory for the Hurricanes, who lost 17-19 to the Highlanders in the third round, lifted them to one point behind the third-placed Otago side in the New Zealand conference led by the Chiefs and Crusaders.
The Highlanders enjoyed most of the possession but after a faulty first 20 minutes the Hurricanes tightened their defence while the Highlanders attack lacked direction.
Both sides scored two tries, with the difference being the accurate boot of Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett who punished the Highlanders' high error rate by landing four penalties.
The lead changed five times in the match with Savea's winning try coming six minutes from fulltime when the Hurricanes counter-attacked from a poorly directed clearing kick by Highlanders scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan.
The powerful wing breached the Highlanders defence about 30 metres from the line and raced away to settle a match which could have gone either way.
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"I think that constructively that's some of the best footy we've played. We still made mistakes but it's a great step up," said captain Conrad Smith who singled out Savea as a "special" player.
"We kept saying to him just hang in there, the ball wasn't coming his way. But when you show a bit of maturity you can stick at it and wait and when your chance comes he scores tries and that's what we love about him."
The Hurricanes started the scoring with an early Barrett penalty only for the Highlanders to respond with flyhalf Chris Noakes stepping around three defenders to score near the posts and then add the conversion.
It was a try that signalled to the Highlanders there was ground to be made by taking the direct route at the Hurricanes.
Adam Thomson led a series of pick-and-goes which took the Highlanders up to the Hurricanes line where the All Blacks flanker remained on hand to score the second try.
But while the Highlanders were scoring tries their halftime lead was restricted to 14-9 as Barrett penalties kept the Hurricanes in touch.
A Noakes penalty extended the Highlanders lead after the break, but the Hurricanes struck back immediately when they won the restart and the move ended with a try to Faifili Levave which Barrett converted from wide out.
However, in the lead up to the try, neither the linesman nor referee saw Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton step in touch before off-loading the final pass to Levave.
The Hurricanes regained the lead with 15 minutes remaining with another Barrett penalty when Thomson was penalised for a late tackle on TJ Perenara.
Replacement flyhalf Mike Delany put the Highlanders back in front with a handy penalty before Savea had the final word with the match-winning try.
Highlanders – Tries: Chris Noakes, Adam Thomson. Conversions: Noakes (2). Penalties: Noakes, Mike Delany.
Hurricanes – Tries: Faifili Levave, Julian Savea. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2). Penalties: Beauden Barrett (4).