Highlanders snatch thrilling win from Canes
The Highlanders have leapt to fourth place in the Super Rugby competition with an 18-16 win over the Hurricanes.
Hayden Parker contributed all of the Highlanders points in a victory which sees them get within one point of New Zealand conference leaders the Chiefs ahead of a massive clash against the Crusaders in Dunedin next Saturday.
This was a game which featured so many subplots it resembled an episode of Game of Thrones.
There was TJ Perenara, the plucky heir to Aaron Smith's All Black jersey, causing the incumbent all sorts of grief around the scrum.
Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen popping up like a human highlights reel for much of the first half, the big tighthead prop celebrating his inclusion in the All Blacks wider training squad in style.
Motu Mat'u taking on Liam Coltman in a battle of two young bulls.
Nasi Manu struggled on through the game despite a problem with his left shoulder, well aware of his value to the Highlanders cause in a game which lived up to the tight finishes this derby game has become known for.
The clash in styles between Malakai Fekitoa's barnstorming running and the gliding play of Conrad Smith was like Rock v Classical, but it was Fekitoa's try-saving tackling which proved he continues to adapt to the big occasion.
The defence from both teams was so good in the first half that the only try which was scored probably wasn't one.
Perenara snuck around the back of a Highlanders 5m scrum and knocked the ball out of his All Black squad mate Aaron Smith's hands, pouncing on the ball to score.
It looked pretty good as a knock on, but referee Jaco Peyper ruled it had been knocked back and the Highlanders had to settle for a late penalty which cut the halftime deficit to 13-9.
Both teams had so much attacking talent on offer, but defence ruled in the 22m, the Highlanders holding out well from the early part of the game.
Beauden Barrett picked up a knee injury in the first half and returned in the second for a time, but Andre Taylor took over the kicking duties and missed two clutch penalties as the game ticked down to an exciting conclusion.
Early in the second half the Highlanders went to a bench greener than the Cake Tin grass, the likes of Matias Diaz, Tom Franklin and Aki Seiuli injected into the forward pack.
Parker added to his three first half penalties with two more and a drop goal to kick the Highlanders into the lead for the first time in the game with quarter of an hour to go.
Perenara looked to have grabbed another improbable try, but was judged to have benefited from some obstruction at the end of a period of play which saw the Highlanders defend close to 20 phases.
Few teams have had to tackle as much as the Highlanders this season. They'd prefer to be playing with the ball, but they aren't too bad at putting players on the ground either.
That's exactly what they did to close out an important win in the capital, a game which has injected new life into a campaign which looked as if it was starting to show signs of fatigue.
Highlanders 18 (Hayden Parker 5 pen, drop goal) Hurricanes 16 (TJ Perenara try; Beauden Barrett 2 pen, Andre Taylor con, pen). HT: 9-13
The Southland Times