Hurricanes down Highlanders
Dunedin - The Hurricanes snatched a 26-20 victory over the Highlanders with a Julian Savea try sealing the outcome in the dying minutes of their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
The revenge victory for the Hurricanes, who lost 17-19 to the Highlanders in the third round, lifted them to one point behind the third-placed Dunedin side in the New Zealand conference led by the Chiefs and Crusaders.
The Highlanders enjoyed most of the possession but after a faulty first 20 minutes the Hurricanes tightened their defence while the Highlanders attack lacked direction.
Both sides scored two tries, with the difference being the accurate boot of Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett who punished the Highlanders' high error rate by landing four penalties.
The lead changed hands five times with Savea's winning try coming six minutes from full-time when the Hurricanes counter-attacked from a poorly directed clearing kick by Highlanders scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan.
The powerful wing breached the Highlanders defence about 30m from the line and raced away to settle a match which could have gone either way.
"I think that constructively that's some of the best footy we've played. We still made mistakes but it's a great step up," said captain Conrad Smith who singled out Savea as a "special" player.
"We kept saying to him just hang in there, the ball wasn't coming his way. But when you show a bit of maturity you can stick at it and wait and when your chance comes he scores tries and that's what we love about him."
The Hurricanes started the scoring with an early Barrett penalty only for the Highlanders to respond with flyhalf Chris Noakes stepping around three defenders to score near the posts and then add the conversion.
It was a try that signalled to the Highlanders there was ground to be made by taking the direct route at the Hurricanes.
Adam Thomson led a series of pick-and-goes which took the 'Landers up to the 'Canes line where the All Black flanker remained on hand to score the second try.
But while the Highlanders were scoring tries their half-time lead was restricted to 14-9 as Barrett penalties kept the Hurricanes in touch.
A Noakes penalty extended the Highlanders lead after the break, but the Hurricanes struck back immediately when they won the restart and the move ended with a try to Faifili Levave which Barrett converted from wide out.
However, in the lead up to the try, neither the linesman nor referee saw Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton step in touch before off-loading the final pass to Levave.
The Hurricanes regained the lead with 15 minutes remaining with another Barrett penalty when Thomson was penalised for a late tackle on scrumhalf TJ Perenara.
Replacement flyhalf Mike Delany put the Highlanders back in front with a handy penalty before Savea had the final word with the match-winning try.
Tries: Chris Noakes, Adam Thomson. Conversions: Noakes (2). Penalties: Noakes, Mike Delany
Tries: Faifili Levave, Julian Savea. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett (4)
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZL)
15. Ben Smith, 14. Siale Piutau, 13. Tamati Ellison, 12. Phil Burleigh, 11. Hosea Gear, 10. Mike Delany, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Nasi Manu, 7. Nick Crosswell, 6. Adam Thomson, 5. Jarrad Hoeata, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 2. Andrew Hore (captain), 1. Chris King
Substitutes: 16. Jason Rutledge, 17. Bronson Murray, 18. Culum Retallick, 19. Tim Boys, 20. Jimmy Cowan, 21. Chris Noakes, 22. Kenny Lynn
15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes
Substitutes: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Brad Shields, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Tusi Pisi/Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Alapati Leiua