Late burst by Hurricanes buries Highlanders

The Wellington Hurricanes scored two tries in the final five minutes to come from behind to beat the Otago Highlanders 22-17 in a Super 14 rugby clash on Friday.

In a match played in steady drizzle, the Hurricanes spent much of the game searching for territory through the boots of Corey Jane and Daniel Kirkpatrick, but their kicking was largely ill-directed.

However, their fortunes changed when they switched to keeping the ball in hand.

The two sides, who both lost at home in the first round, battled for 39 minutes before Kirkpatrick put the Hurricanes ahead with a penalty when Adam Thomson was sin-binned.

The loss of the All Blacks flanker proved costly for the Highlanders as the Hurricanes moved to a 10-0 lead soon after the break when Ma’a Nonu set up David Smith for a try.

Nonu had been a surprise omission from the Hurricanes’ starting line-up and his inclusion in the side for the second half initially looked as if it would turn the Hurricanes backline into a potent attacking force.

But after Smith’s try, the home side reverted to their kicking game, which allowed the Highlanders, back to full strength, to take the initiative and score two tries in two minutes.

First, Daniel Bowden hacked the ball over the line and dived for what was awarded as a try although television replays were inconclusive as giant Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton appeared to have control of the ball.

Then indecision in the Hurricanes defence allowed Steven Setephano to cash in on a loose ball and score.

Bowden converted both tries and added a penalty to leave the Highlanders up 17-10, which finally forced the Hurricanes to put their kicking game away for the night.

Instead they played it tight and spent 10 minutes relentlessly pounding the Highlanders’ line before putting together a move that went through 16 phases resulting in Eaton crashing over for Piri Weepu to convert and level the scores.

Play had hardly restarted before Weepu, who played the last 20 minutes at flyhalf, started a 65m counter-attack with a chip kick that he recovered and sent Conrad Smith away for the match-winning try.

For the second week in a row the Highlanders were beaten at the death after a drop goal on the final whistle saw them lose to the Brumbies in the first round.—AFP

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