Highlanders continue winning run

Getty Images     18 Mar 2012     Getty Images

As has been the case in previous encounters between these two teams it was an arm wrestle from the start and not unsurprisingly was decided by the boot rather than a feast of tries, although both Colin Slade and Cory Jane managed five-pointers.

In the end it was Chris Noake's 74th minute penalty goal that proved to be the difference in the see-saw match that had the Hurricanes leading 14-13 at the break, despite being 0-13 down at one point.

Neither side were helped by the referees. Bryce Lawrence blew a steady tune on his whistle in the opening 40 minutes. He was replaced at half-time by Keith Brown who continued to be strong on infringements at the breakdown, meaning the match remained a stop-start affair.

The match, which followed a moment's silence in memory of Jock Hobbs, took an age to get going as Lawrence laid down the law.

The Hurricanes were on the wrong side of the penalty count for much of the first quarter but did not help their cause either by turning over the ball far too frequently.

It allowed the Highlanders to get on the front foot and they made good use of the possession and field position as Slade racked up 13 points with two penalties bookending his converted try.

The try, in the 14th minute, was the result of a quick-tap penalty by halfback Jimmy Cowan which put fullback Ben Smith clear. The ball was worked to the left where wing Hosea Gear did well to stay in the field of play. But the Hurricanes were able to keep out a series of pick and drives until Cowan sent the ball out one to Slade who scored by the post.

Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor had the first opportunity to get his side on the scoreboard in the 26th minute but his difficult 55 metre penalty attempt went well wide.

The impressive first five-eighths Beauden Barrett made no mistakes though, knocking over two penalties in three minutes to get the Hurricanes back in the game.
It seemed to spark the home side and with three minutes of the half to go Jane dotted down in the corner to cut the Highlanders' lead to just a point.

The attack was sparked by a powerful run from wing Julian Savea, who beat Cowan, then unceremoniously dumped second five-eighths Phil Burleigh on his backside.

The ball was spun out to the right and with little space to work in Jane squeezed over by the corner flag.

Barrett could not add the conversion but made no mistake with a penalty on the stroke of half-time after a strong Hurricanes scrum forced Highlanders prop Ma'afu Fia to pop up in the front row.

Lawrence was replaced in the middle by Brown at the break but the second half was a virtual repeat of the opening 15 minutes of the match as the Hurricanes got on the wrong side of the penalty count and the Highlanders dominated possession and field position.

Slade edged the visitors back in front with his third penalty and they should have been further ahead than 16-14 before the hour-mark but two good try-scoring chances were wasted.

Gear made one of his trademark runs up field on a counter-attack, beating halfback TJ Perenara before the finger tips of Jane finally halted the big winger's momentum.

The ball was spun wide and with the Hurricanes defence stretched centre Tamati Ellison threw a forward pass when wing Kade Poki would have been in with ease.

Minutes later the Highlanders butchered another five-pointer when a poor pass by Burleigh saw lock Josh Bekhuis knock-on with the line begging.

Having weathered the storm, the Hurricanes finally got themselves down in the Highlanders' 22 after another strong run by Savea.

They eventually earned a penalty, which Barrett coolly slotted for a 17-16 lead.
But with six minutes lock Jeremy Thrush was penalised for going off his feet at the ruck and Slade's replacement Chris Noakes kicked the match-winning penalty.

Hurricanes 17 (Cory Jane try; Beauden Barrett 4 pen) Highlanders 19 (Colin Slade try, con, 3 pen; Chris Noakes pen). HT: 14-13