SPORTS

Highlanders Clinch Close Win

The Highlanders have heaped more angst on the team they upset in last year’s Super Rugby final by shading the Hurricanes 17-16 in an absorbing and controversial rematch in Dunedin
06 Mar 2016 15:12
Highlanders Clinch Close Win
Patrick Osborne on the attack against the Hurricanes last night.

The Highlanders have heaped more angst on the team they upset in last year’s Super Rugby final by shading the Hurricanes 17-16 in an absorbing and controversial rematch in Dunedin last night.

Although the magnitude of defeat did not approach the Hurricanes’ 42-point loss to the Brumbies on opening night, it was still a galling experience for last year’s runners-up, and now potential also-rans in 2016.

The Highlanders showed championship qualities when it mattered most, responding from a debatable non-try in the 69th minute which denied Malakai Fekitoa a double.

Fekitoa surged to the goalpost, literally, as he appeared to force the ball on the base of the padding with the impact of the collision ripping it from the upright.

Replays suggested the try was legitimate though TMO Chris Wratt ruled a five-metre scrum because he did not see the ball grounded.

From the resulting scrum feed, No 8 Liam Squire crossed untouched but referee Glen Jackson ruled the in-pass from Aaron Smith was forward.

The Hurricanes eight then withstood massive pressure on their line before Victor Vito found enough momentum to set up a clearance, but the respite was only temporary as the Highlanders regained field position and earned the crucial penalty when TJ Perenara was penalised at the breakdown.

Replacement first five-eighth Hayden Parker missed a potentially match-winning three-pointer at Eden Park in round one but coolly slotted an angled attempt to give the Highlanders a one-point lead they protected for a frenetic final four minutes.

The Hurricanes were crucially penalised from the restart and the Highlanders were able to run down the clock, a task aided when one final turnover was squandered by Jason Woodward who inexplicably kicked the ball into touch.

Neither side really resembled the teams that advanced to last July’s decider during an error-prone first half where only Fekitoa made a productive break before he capped a 10-phase build-up to score in the 10th minute.

The Hurricanes had ample opportunity to stress the Highlanders defence but were let down by frequent handling errors in a roofed arena that resembled a virtual hot house with humidity to match.

The Hurricanes’ inability to convert pressure into points was encapsulated when they conceded back-to-back penalties after closing to within centimetres of the line.

Highlanders: 17 (Malakai Fekitoa try; Lima Sopoaga 3 pen; Hayden Parker pen)

Hurricanes: 16 (TJ Perenara try; Beauden Barrett 3 pen con) Halftime: 11-6.  Stuff

 

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