Daniel Richardson

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

Rugby: Drop goal gets the job done for Highlanders

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 16: Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes is tackled by Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders at W
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 16: Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes is tackled by Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders at W

Hurricanes 16
Highlanders 18

You don't always need to score tries when your side has a first-five with a boot like Hayden Parker's.

The Highlanders first-five drove the first nail through the coffin of the Hurricanes' 2014 Super Rugby campaign with an impressive kicking display in Wellington last night.

Parker kicked five penalties and a clutch drop goal to give his side an 18-16 victory from a contest where they offered little on attack but ultimately banked the valuable competition points.

The Hurricanes will now rely on other results to go their way, on top of needing to win their four remaining games, if they want to make the playoffs this year.

Nothing much was doing when the ball bobbled to Parker in the 65th minute last night but the pint-sized No 10 dropped his second goal in as many weeks as the Highlanders kept themselves firmly in the playoff picture.

"It just squirted out so I thought `why not take it?','' Parker said after the game.

The Highlanders won't be winning any awards for enterprising play but their kick-heavy approach got the job done in the capital.

"That was sort of the plan,'' Parker said. "We wanted to keep it relatively boring, you could say, for the Hurricanes and try and take it away from their exciting players and as it was, it worked out for us.''

Jamie Joseph's side also backed their tactics with an impressive night of tackling.

"It felt like we were defending most of that game,'' Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu said.

The Hurricanes grabbed the only try of the contest when TJ Perenara, who shaded opposite number Aaron Smith for much of the game, dotted down late in the first spell as they took a 13-9 lead to the split.

The home side ticked the scoreboard over for the first hour over but a hip injury to first-five Beauden Barrett meant he gave up the kicking duties before the halftime break and was eventually subbed in the second stanza.

Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor added a penalty and converted Perenara's try but missed two penalty attempts, including one from point-blank range with eight minutes left, during his time with the tee.

In the interim, Parker nailed a couple of penalties and his unfashionable drop goal eventually gave the Highlanders a lead they'd never give up.

Perenara could have wrestled the game back for the Hurricanes with only a few minutes left but the TMO ruled Ash Dixon had obstructed a Highlanders defender at the ruck and disallowed the try.

"To be honest, technically, it's probably the right call,'' Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith said. "But you could look at every ruck in the game and that would happen so that's the way I see it.''

In the end, the Hurricanes didn't show the ability to juggle their gameplan on the fly and they were able to offer few answers to a Highlanders side who were happy to grind the result.

"These games where you lose by a couple are always the hardest ones to take,'' Perenara said.

The Hurricanes will have a week to regroup before they host the Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday night.

Highlanders 18 (Hayden Parker 5 pen, drop goal) Hurricanes 16 (TJ Perenara try; Beauden Barrett 2 pen; Andre Taylor pen, con) Halftime: 9-13

- APNZ

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