Rugby: Ardie sparks Hurricanes party with late try over Highlanders

By Kris Shannon

Hurricanes 27 Highlanders 20
Brad Shields of the Hurricanes is congratulated on his try. Photo / Getty
Brad Shields of the Hurricanes is congratulated on his try. Photo / Getty

Two things appeared likely ahead of a grand final replay between the Hurricanes and Highlanders - the game would be close and only individual brilliance could separate the sides.

And both of those boxes were ticked as last year's runner-up found a modicum of revenge in Wellington, pipping the defending champions courtesy of Ardie Savea's last gasp try.

Considering 15 of the last 16 fixtures between these sides had been decided by seven points or fewer, it was no shock such late intervention was needed. And given they headed into the contest separated by only one competition point, it was similarly unsurprising one of the many game-breakers both sides boasted was required to determine the outcome.

The outstanding flanker's speed and strength proved unstoppable close to the line, scoring his second try and bailing out Beauden Barrett after what appeared a crucial miss five minutes from time. In fairness, Barrett never deserved to play the villain, marshalling his side well as all eyes watched the battle between the first fives ahead of the All Blacks announcement on Sunday.

Lima Sopoaga was equally exemplary for the Highlanders, doing the simple well and the intricate even better, and Jamie Joseph may regret hauling his pivot with 22 minutes left and the game on the line. Now the champs find themselves fourth in the New Zealand conference, although there are still several derbies to come following the international break.

And if the rugby public are lucky, those games will come close to the intensity and skill on display tonight. After the first 10 minutes progressed as if the wet and windy conditions were overriding the players' base desires to attack, both teams soon reverted to instinct in an electric opening half.

The Hurricanes set the tone with a spectacular long-range try displaying their elusive running and excellent support play to hand Savea his first. And the home side continued to bust through tackles and exhibit handling that belied the weather, grabbing a second through Brad Shields before the Highlanders came to the party.

They eventually eschewed the straight running and high kicking they employed early, finding success through Sopoaga with their first real show of risk. The teams were now aiming to keep ball in hand at every opportunity, as if having remembered the skill they both boasted all over the field.

The only shame was that the first half had to come to an end but Dan Lienert-Brown's try immediately after the break promised no relent in an intensity level worthy of the final.

And while that proved true, the manner in which the prop found his way across the line provided another hint at what was to follow. Some of the enterprise disappeared from both backlines as the clock kept ticking and the stakes continued to rise, with the teams now trading turnovers instead of line breaks.

Such a grind seemed to suit the Highlanders, given it was the type the southerners were winning earlier the season. And that especially appeared true as the Hurricanes' lineout completely fell apart.

But with Sopoaga's creativity removed, the visitors struggled to get their hands on the ball and were left to lean on their defence, a unit that initially shouldered the burden before Savea busted straight through.

Hurricanes 27 (A. Savea 2, Shields tries; Barrett 3 cons, 2 pens)
Highlanders 20 (Sopoaga, Lienert-Brown tries; Sopoaga 2 cons, pen, Banks pen)
Halftime: 17-7

- NZ Herald

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