Hurricanes overpower the Highlanders
The Hurricanes took complete control late in the game to secure a try scoring bonus point to go with their 41-15 win over the Highlanders in a Vodacom Super Rugby match at the Wespac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
As was the case for most of the second half of last season, the Hurricanes can thank their pack and their superb, aggressive defence for the win, as well as a precise off-load game that was much improved on their inaccurate effort in the wet against the Chiefs the previous week.
The Hurricanes scored seven tries to two to easily bank their try scoring bonus point, but it was only in the last quarter that the win, let alone the extra point, looked assured.
It was only once Julian Savea crossed in the 62nd minute that the Hurricanes drew properly ahead at 27-15, and then there were two tries after that from the other wing, Vince Aso.
The Highlanders were good in the first half, with the wizardry of Aaron Smith and the sheer blockbusting pace and power of outside centre Malakai Fekitoa repeatedly troubling the Hurricanes. However, even at that point, though their dominance wasn’t as great as it later became, the Hurricanes were the better team.
They were the first to score when Ardi Savea drove over the line under a forward blanket to dot down for a 5-0 lead. One of the features of the match was the poor place-kicking of the Hurricanes, and Beauden Barrett missed the conversion, as he did a couple of later kicks, before his brother Jordie, who played an impressive game at fullback, stepped up to take over.
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The elder Barrett was though his usual brilliant self in allround play and handsomely contributed to both the Hurricanes’ attacking game and their game management.
The Highlanders were strong in the middle stages of the first half, and they were perhaps galvanised by a brilliant run from Fekitoa down the right touchline. Fekitoa was adjudged to have gone out just short of the corner flag but it was a move that started deep in Highlanders territory so it would have inspired confidence through the visiting ranks.
That created the field position from which flyhalf Fletcher Smith kicked the penalty that reduced the deficit to two points after 25 minutes, and then the Highlanders took the lead for the first and what was to prove only time in the match as substitute Matt Faddes straightened off a little crab run off an attacking scrum from All Black scrumhalf Smith to dot down a try that just looked too easy.
Fletcher Smith (there are a lot of Smiths in the Highlanders ranks these days) missed the conversion to make it 8-5 to the Highlanders, but that lead was relinquished when Barrett produced what could be described as an excellent kick pass to put inside centre Ngani Laumapi over in the right corner. The All Black flyhalf missed the conversion to make it a two point game at the break (10-8 to the Hurricanes).
The Highlanders were good in the first minute of the second half as they started out with attacking intent, but that was quickly turned around by the Hurricanes, who were at their best at feasting off opposition errors, many of which were forced by their own aggressive tackling, who played their way back into the Highlanders half.
From the set piece there was an excellent cross kick from Beauden Barrett and then an equally impressive inside flick from brother Jordie that sent in outside centre Matt Proctor. This time the conversion was successful and the Hurricanes were nine points ahead.
The hosts weren’t helped though by the yellow card that was shown to scrumhalf TJ Perenara. It was adjudged a high tackle or challenge and initially there were fears that Perenara might get shown red but he appeared to have touched the ball and the commentators ended up feeling that the incident could have merited a penalty only.
From the resultant penalty the Highlanders set up the lineout from which they launched a close range attack that just systematically sucked in the Hurricanes defenders until the extra man counted and flanker Elliot Dixon went over to score. Marty Banks kicked the conversion to make it a two point game again, and with the Hurricanes set to be down to 14 men for another eight minutes, they must have feared the worst.
They needn’t have feared anything though, for they quickly showed their class, or should that be that Laumapi showed his class again, with the inside centre effecting a powerful outside break that saw him bulldoze his way in at the right corner. It was a superb individual effort, and although the conversion was again missed, the Hurricanes appeared to be back on course.
And so it proved as their forwards took complete control after that and they found remarkable fluency with their offload and attacking game and the Highlanders were always under pressure in the last half hour of the match.
Some of the Highlanders defence was poor towards the end, particularly when they let in Aso for his first try of the night. It was almost the first opportunity the right wing enjoyed and he made full use of it, and then he dropped onto a grubber kick at the death to complete a brace that makes him the top try scorer in Super Rugby this year with six five pointers.
Hurricanes (NZL) 41
Highlanders (NZL) 15
Hurricanes - Tries: Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape (2), Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Vince Aso (2). Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3).
Highlanders - Tries: Matt Faddes, Elliot Dixon. Conversion: Marty Banks. Penalty: Fletcher Smith.