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Highlanders edge Hurricanes in thriller

Malakai Fekitoa in action earlier this year for the Highlanders

The Highlanders edged the Hurricanes 17-16 in a rematch of the 2015 Super Rugby Grand Final at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Having trailed for most of the match the Hurricanes took the lead in the final quarter but Hayden Parker slotted a late penalty to snatch the victory.

Parker’s penalty came after the Highlanders came close to taking the lead with a try three times in as many minutes only to be denied by the officials.

First Malakai Fekitoa thought he had scored after grounding the ball at the base of the posts before the TMO ruled  he was short.

Then Liam Squire managed to get over the tryline and thought he had scored before the referee ruled a forward pass.

Aaron Smith was next to go over with a spectacular dive thinking he had scored but was called back for an offence in the build up.

The Hurricanes performance was a massive step up compared to their performance against the Brumbies in Round 1 and showed glimpses of the form that saw them reach the final last year.

However just like the last time the Highlanders and the Hurricanes met it was the Highlanders who were slightly more clinical and had an edge more intensity.

Both sides were first round losers last week and the Hurricanes in particular needed a good comeback after their 70-point drubbing at the hands of the Brumbies in Canberra.

Midway through the second half they looked to be on track to prove they were better than that when they fought back from 6-14 down to lead 16-14.

Then, they withstood a torrid attack from the Highlanders when Malakai Fekitoa, Liam Squire and Aaron Smith were denied try-scoring opportunities.

But as the clock ticked down, the Highlanders won a penalty about 30 metres from the posts and Parker produced the match-winning kick, much to the relief of captain Ben Smith.

“We were just lucky we pulled through at the end. It could have gone either way,” Smith said, praising his side for their reaction to the missed tries saying they “didn’t get too frustrated, and kept playing until the end”.

It was a high-octane but error-ridden encounter with one try apiece.

While Parker was the match winner, it was two other contenders for Dan Carter’s All Blacks jersey who were a focal point of the game.

Lima Sopoaga kept the Highlanders in front through the first half, pulling off crucial tackles, making telling half breaks one of which led to Malakai Fekitoa’s try and landing two penalties.

He added a third penalty in the second half before being replaced by Parker who sealed the victory.

The Hurricane’s Beauden Barrett came into his own in the second half whether orchestrating attacks or covering as a second fullback.

Barrett also landed two first-half penalties and another in the second as well as converting Perenara’s try which came off the end of a patient build up after earlier forays close to the line by the ‘Canes ended with the critical offload going astray.

The Highlanders host the Lions in Round 3 while the Hurricane travel to Auckland to face the Blues.

Final Score Highlanders 17 (11) Hurricanes 16 (6)

Scorers

Highlanders
Tries – M.Fekitoa
Pen – L.Sopoaga 3, H.Parker
Con –
Drop –
Cards –

Hurricanes
Tries – TJ.Perenara
Pen – B.Barrett 3
Con – B.Barrett
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1:Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 2:Brendon Pickerill
TMO : Chris Wratt

Teams

Highlanders

1. Brendon Edmonds , 2. Liam Coltman , 3. Josh Hohneck , 4. Tom Franklin , 5. Joe Wheeler , 6. Elliot Dixon , 7. Shane Christie ( cc) , 8. Luke Whitelock , 9. Aaron Smith , 10. Lima Sopoaga , 11. Patrick Osborne , 12. Teihorangi Walden , 13. Malakai Fekitoa , 14. Matt Faddes , 15. Ben Smith ( cc )

Replacements : 16. Ash Dixon , 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown , 18. Siosiua Halanukonuka , 19. Liam Squire , 20. Dan Pryor , 21. Josh Renton , 22. Hayden Parker , 23. Jason Emery

Hurricanes

James Marshall, Cory Jane, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (c), Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Mark Abbott, Blade Thomson, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Leni Apisai, Reggie Goodes.

Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Vaea Fifita, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jason Woodward, Willis Halaholo