Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Highlanders triumph in high scoring thriller

Aaron Smith of the Highlanders scores a try during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Smith of the Highlanders scores a try during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.

Highlanders 49
Hurricanes 44

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph must have watched his side's 49-44 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington tonight wondering `where has this been all year?'.

The southern men were electric at the Cake Tin as they disposed of a Hurricanes side who were forced to play catch-up after they were blitzed in a dire first half of an entertaining game.

It was only the third win of what has been a dismal campaign for the Highlanders and they showed what they can do with their high-profile recruits when they all click.

With little on the line in terms of competition standings, the game had the potential to be a festival-type outing with plenty of running rugby and it lived up to that potential.

A surprisingly still July evening greeted the teams and after some early jitters, both sides got in to their work and it was the Highlanders who bagged the first try of the game.

Colin Slade hasn't set the world on fire this season but he made an audacious break from his own 22m area and linked well with Hosea Gear who found Tony Woodcock before the big loosehead prop transferred the ball to Mose Tuiali'i who scored.

Slade then added the conversion and it was a deft chip kick from the pivot which laid on the Highlanders' second.

Slade's kick found open country in the Hurricanes' 22m area and as TJ Perenara tracked back to cover the bouncing ball he missed it, which allowed Tamati Ellison to pounce on the pill and score.

Another Slade conversion and his second penalty of the contest kept the scoreboard ticking over for a busy Highlanders lot who finally played with the inspiration they had been lacking all season.

Only minutes after Ellison's try, nippy halfback Aaron Smith added to the Hurricanes' woes as he dashed across the chalk close to the posts as the visitors shot out to a 27-6 lead after only 27 minutes.

Hurricanes hooker Ash Dixon finally crossed for the home side in the 37th to get them in to the game but Highlanders wing Kade Poki beat three would-be tacklers to score on the stroke of half-time.

Slade's missed conversion of the Poki try was a rare respite for the Hurricanes as the teams went for oranges with the Highlanders ahead 32-13.

The second spell started slowly _ bar an early Slade penalty _ but when Smith was sent to the sin bin after repeated infringing by the Highlanders, the Hurricanes were presented with a numerical advantage.

That extra man paid off as prop Ben Franks scored out wide in the 56th minute to give the Hurricanes a sniff of an unlikely comeback at 35-20.

Julian Savea then crossed as the Hurricanes came to life and Beauden Barrett's conversion brought the home side to within eight points.

But just as soon as the 8427-strong crowd thought the Hurricanes might snatch a come-from-behind win, the Highlanders scored through Hosea Gear and Elliot Dixon to kill the game off.

The points didn't stop though as Chris Smylie scored from close range with 10 minutes left as the game lost its shape as the substitutes spilled on to the field.

Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst then stretched out one of his long arms to plant the ball down as the tries continued to flow, which again brought the Hurricanes to within eight.

Another Barrett penalty brought the scoreboard to 49-44 in favour of the Highlanders and when Bronson Murray was sent to the sin bin with five minutes left, the Hurricanes looked like they might pull the game from the fire.

But the Highlanders defended valiantly in the final stages to cap a rare victory.

Highlanders 49 (Mose Tuiali'i, Tamati Ellison, Aaron Smith, Kade Poki, Hosea Gear, Elliot Dixon tries; Colin Slade 3 pen, 3 con; Hayden Parker 2 con) Hurricanes 44 (Ash Dixon, Ben Franks, Julian Savea, Chris Smylie, James Broadhurst tries; Beauden Barrett 3 pen, 5 con) HT: 32-13


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