Rugby: Highlanders hold out Hurricanes

By Daniel Richardson

Brad Thorn of the Highlanders on the charge during the round six Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Brad Thorn of the Highlanders on the charge during the round six Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Highlanders 35
Hurricanes 31

And just like that, the pressure is back on the Hurricanes.

After opening their Super Rugby campaign with three losses, they kept the knockers at bay for a brief period with a 60-27 destruction of the Cheetahs last weekend but they were brought back to reality as the Highlanders knocked them over 35-31 in Dunedin tonight.

As has been a problem for most of the season, the Hurricanes fell off plenty of tackles, made basic errors and looked stunted on attack.

First Take: Ben Smith excels as fullback

Coach Mark Hammett has been in the firing line from the Hurricanes' faithful this season and there's no reason to think the blowtorch won't be applied to him and his management team again in the coming week as they look to get their season on track.

Considering the Crusaders are on the agenda next, things won't get any easier for the Hurricanes, who have problems across the board but never seem to look completely out of the games they play.

Halfback Chris Smylie was a late scratching for the Hurricanes tonight, which was a tough blow for the visitors given the veteran No 9 had looked sharp against the Cheetahs last week but his withdrawal presented a chance for TJ Perenara to redeem himself after an indifferent start to the year.

The halfback did have a hand in a late Hurricanes try with a deft offload, although his kicking and option-taking are still areas of concern.

Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has been a revelation this season after spending 2013 as a full-time training partner at the Blues.

The Tongan-born speedster has looked dangerous on attack all year and delivered a thunderous hit on his opposite number Conrad Smith early in the second spell.

A forgettable first half, that was dominated by penalty goals, was quickly put to bed in the second stanza when Highlanders second-five Phil Burleigh bagged a five-pointer in the 50th minute after some phenomenal work from Highlanders fullback Ben Smith.

Smith was one of the best on show during the game and must be planting some thoughts in to the mind of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen ahead of the June tests.

Smith's vision and ability to find his way through gaps, while also holding the ball up in the tackle are a fine mix of skills, while he is also astute under the high ball.

When Hurricanes midfielder Hadleigh Parkes threw a pass, which was intercepted by rampaging wing Patrick Osborne mid-way through the second half, the Highlanders eased out to a 35-12 advantage.

Late tries to Ben Franks and Beauden Barrett (two) saw the Hurricanes claw their way back in to the contest but it wasn't enough to see them pull off a comeback win as they dropped their fourth contest of the campaign.

Despite missing a dolly of a penalty goal in the early stages, Lima Sopoaga, a Wellington born, raised and educated five-eighth, had an absolute bumper evening off the kicking tee and he eventually landed nine from 10, including seven conversions and two penalties.

Highlanders 35 (Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne tries; Lima Sopoaga 7 pen, 2 con) Hurricanes 31 (Beauden Barrett 2, Ben Franks tries; Barrett 4 pen, 2 con) Halftime: 18-9

- APNZ

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