HURRICANES 17
HIGHLANDERS 19

This was Hammer Hammett Time; the showdown between All Black hooker Andrew Hore and the man who hurried him out of the Hurricanes - former All Black hooker Mark Hammett.

Both the Hammett-coached Hurricanes and Hore's new team, the Highlanders, have been the surprises of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference and their clash at Wellington was eagerly anticipated, with the grudge factor between Hore and Hammett the icing on the Cake (Tin).

In the event, everybody got on with the grunt work and seemingly forgot about the grudges - though fired-up `Canes hooker Dane Coles was warned early for over-vigorous play, perhaps fuelled by his packing down against Hore, who used to keep him out of the team.

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However, maybe in the privacy of the changing room, Hore could afford to let a quiet smile play across his features. That was because, in a close match pockmarked by penalties, the potential game-breaker came with a beautiful, flowing move engineered by a break by another former Hurricane, Hosea Gear. After 80m of slick team movement, winger Kade Poki scored what should have been the matchwinner - only to be called back for a forward pass.

It was a heartbreaker but the Highlanders were not about to let the Hurricanes wriggle out of their grasp as they had in the first half.

The Highlanders had dominated the early stages, continuing their successful tactics of driving hard into the breakdowns and playing at pace. They had the majority of possession and position and shot out to a 10-0 lead after 15 minutes after a Colin Slade penalty and then a try to the first five-eighths after some battering drives at the line
by the Highlanders pack.

A further penalty for a 13-0 lead awoke the `Canes, with first five Beauden Barrett kicking two penalties to get the Wellington franchise back in it.

In fact, it was the Slade-Barrett showdown that really took precedence over Hore-Hammett. Slade, the unlucky-with-injuries All Black who looked so tentative last week, moved and kicked far more sweetly and smoothly this week.

Barrett, tipped by just about everyone to be an All Black, had less of the ball early and less time when confronted by a hungry Highlanders' defence. Slade was subbed off in the second half after missing an important goal - while Barrett effortlessly stroked his team back in front in a match where the lead changed hands several times.

In the first half, even the Highlanders' willing tackling couldn't stop a jolting run from winger Julian Savea and Barrett put Jane into a half-gap to score from follow-up play as the Hurricanes got their running and passing working well. Just before halftime, they got in front for the first time after a Barrett penalty from a scrum where the Canes took it to Hore and the Highlanders' front row.

The Highlanders got their high-octane game going again in the second half, and took back the lead with another Slade penalty. They put the squeeze on the Hurricanes - but they are always a counter-attack risk and another run from Savea meant only a desperate cover tackle stopped livewire halfback TJ Perenara from scoring in the corner.

The Highlanders dominated possession and territory again and, with six minutes to go, it was 19-17 to the visitors after a pressure penalty kick from replacement first five Chris Noakes.

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The men from the south are adept at running down the clock and they did so efficiently again. Ben and Aaron Smith showed out for them as well as Gear while loose forward Victor Vito, Savea and Barrett were the pick of the Hurricanes.

Scorers: Hurricanes 17 (C. Jane try; B. Barrett 4 pen), Highlanders 19 (C. Slade try, con, 3 pen; C. Noakes pen).
Halftime: 14-13.

by Paul Lewis of the Herald on Sunday