Sportal.co.nz 15.Mar.2013Getty Images
It was the Hurricanes' second consecutive win and the Highlanders' third consecutive loss as they continued their miserable start to the season.
There was little between the teams and, while Hosea Gear was a power runner for the Highlanders, the Hurricanes were more penetrative on attack.
The Highlanders had made five changes to their starting lineup, including the selection of newcomer Jason Emery at centre, after their 36-19 loss to the Cheetahs in Invercargill last week.
The Hurricanes were seeking to build on their momentum after their 29-28 win over the Crusaders in the last round.
The Hurricanes had won 11 of 19 matches against the Highlanders, including a 26-20 victory in Dunedin last year after a late try by Julian Savea.
The Hurricanes opened the scoring with a well-worked try after seven minutes, putting together 13 phases before Conrad Smith crashed over after Brad Shields and Savea were held up just short.
The Highlanders lost captain Andrew Hore to a rib cartilage injury at the same time, Brayden Mitchell taking over at hooker.
Colin Slade kicked a penalty from 41m after 15 minutes but the Hurricanes responded with a sweeping move and a centre kick by Smith which almost brought a try.
The Highlanders put together their first decent attack after 28 minutes, 17 phases, before Slade kicked a penalty from in front to give them the lead by one.
But the lead was short-lived, big prop Ben Franks scoring four minutes later after a punishing run by Victor Vito with both Kade Poki and Ben Smith being swatted aside. Beauden Barrett converted from the sideline and the Hurricanes led 12-6.
The Highlanders scored their first try four minutes before the break when left wing Hosea Gear powered over from an attacking scrum and Slade converted to give them a 13-12 lead.
TJ Perenara almost scored on the stroke of halftime but lost the ball forward in Chris King's tackle.
The Highlanders had 61% possession but only 34% territory, struggled to impose themselves at scrum-time but the Hurricanes conceded more turnovers despite spending much more time in the red zone.
The Highlanders scored first in the second half, Slade kicking a regulation penalty to make it 16-12.
But the Hurricanes regained the lead when Perenara twisted through tackle after tackle to score from a ruck to score a fine individual try and make it 17-16 after nine minutes.
The Highlanders were just denied a try when Emery was tackled centimetres short after good leadup work by Poki and Ben Smith.
But the pressure told when Slade kicked his fourth penalty and the Highlanders were ahead 19-17 after 18 minutes.
The Hurricanes forged into opposition territory after a long spell on defence and Barrett kicked his first penalty as they regained the lead 20-19.
That lead became 23-19 nine minutes from the end when Barrett kicked a difficult long-range penalty after Mitchell was adjudged to have infringed at a ruck.
Slade missed a handy penalty which would have made it a one-point ball game with five minutes left but the Hurricanes just held on in a thrilling finish.
Highlanders 19 (Hosea Gear try; Colin Slade con, 4 pen) Hurricanes 23 (Conrad Smith, Ben Franks, TJ Perenara tries; Beauden Barrett con, pen) HT 13-12.