Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Hurricanes hold off Highlanders

TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes is tackled during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes is tackled during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

Hurricanes 23
Highlanders 19

When the desperate rugby and yo-yo scoring stopped, the Hurricanes had the 23-19 victory.

It was a blessing for them but heartbreak for the Highlanders in a match which must have been torture for both coaching crews.

No one watching this game would have been sure who would claim the result until visiting Argentine referee Francisco Pastrana whistled the end.

Enterprise and endeavour came throughout but those charms were balanced by mistakes and lapses from sides who have delivered patchy starts to their Super 15 schedules.

Colin Slade missed a handy 25 penalty with five minutes to play which would have given them a late shot at an elusive win.

When they got another a minute later they kicked for touch but botched the lineout take and the chance of their first win disappeared.

The Hurricanes made the early play with Brad Shields stopped in the corner in a combined tackle however captain Conrad Smith claimed the recycled ball to surge across in the 8th minute.

Somewhere in the move Highlanders captain Andrew Hore damaged his ribs and left the field while his opposite, Motu Matu'u, who was an uncertain starter because of the same issue, smashed rivals down with stacks of venom.

There was plenty of recycling and ball movement from the Highlanders but most of their work was sideways instead of directly at their rivals.

When the Hurricanes claimed a fortunate rebound they showed their hosts how to claim dividends.

They switched the ball quickly from one side of the stadium to the other, Victor Vito dummied and made the vital incision to offload to loosehead prop Ben Franks.

He was lurking out on Julian Savea's left wing and in a remarkable impersonation of his teammate, Franks lowered his shoulder and sent Ben Smith sprawling as he powered to the tryline.

What was becoming a little grim for the Highlanders, changed when they used an attacking scrum to set up key attacker Hosea Gear for a run at Beauden Barrett's defensive channel. It was no contest. Gear blasted past his All Black teammate and across the line in Karl Lowe's covering tackle.

That gave the Highlanders a decent shot of confidence and a lead at the break while the Hurricanes were left to rue both ends of that spell when Shields and TJ Perenara lost the ball as they dived at the tryline.

Perenara made amends quickly when he gathered a loose ball beside a ruck and beat a four man posse of looseforwards and backs to the line in a remarkable show of strength, balance and timing.

Veteran lock Brad Thorn replied with his impersonation in a storming 25m run towards the line until Perenara lowered him. The momentum had changed once more and Colin Slade grabbed the lead for his side with another penalty.

Neither side knew how to take charge and keep it and that messy production showed why both teams had an unsatisfactory start to this year's series.

Hurricanes 23 (Conrad Smith, Ben Franks, TJ Perenara tries; Beauden Barrett 2 pen, con)
Highlanders 19 (Hosea Gear, tries; Colin Slade 4 pen, con) HT: Highlanders 13-12

- NZ Herald

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