REVIEW: Hurricanes second-five Ma'a Nonu must have missed new coach Mark Hammett's memo about discipline as the Super Rugby season got off to the ugliest of starts.
Nonu's second half sending off left the Hurricanes a man down for the final half hour as they crashed to a 14-9 loss to the Highlanders in Wellington.
It was a disappointing start to Hammett's reign as coach and to another Hurricanes season that got off to a horror start in front of just 11,091 fans.
"It's just great for my boys to get off to a start like this," Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh told Sky Sport.
"For our confidence, we needed that, and not many people gave us a chance."
Nonu's second half sending off for a late shoulder charge on Highlanders halfback Jimmy Cowan saw him gain his second yellow card from Australian referee Stu Dickinson after an earlier transgression at a ruck.
But it was far from the only ugly part of the Hurricanes' effort on a night where passes were spilled, touch missed and opportunities lost.
They were also worryingly outnumbered at attacking rucks with blindside Adam Thomson the pick of the visiting pack.
The only ones who didn't care that this was an awful advertisement for the new Super Rugby competition were the Highlanders.
"We certainly made hard work of it in the second half, our lineout fell to pieces a bit and we should have closed that game out when Ma'a got sent off, but it was character building I suppose," Mackintosh said.
Hurricanes captain Andrew Hore understandably cut a frustrated figure post-match.
"You try and play an game with 14 men for 40 minutes and keep making mistakes, you're never going to win really, are you?," he said.
"They lived off our mistakes and we made plenty of them so it was easy going for them for a while."
The Highlanders rode a first half try to young first-five Lima Sopoaga to get the win nobody, but coach Jamie Joseph thought they could.
Sopoaga missed three penalties and a conversion, but struck when it mattered most after Cowan scooted around Hurricanes skipper Andrew Hore of the back of a lineout on the half hour mark.
It was a rare moment of execution from either side, but enough for the rag tag southern franchise to get home.
In contrast Sopoaga's opposite Aaron Cruden was off his game, some nice early line breaks cancelled out by some sloppy kicking including two easy misses from his five attempts.
Young Hurricanes wing Julian Savea summed up his side's frustrating inability to get going, not touching the ball in the opening 40 minutes.
The match will be remembered for Nonu's late shoulder charge on Cowan, who stayed down for dramatic effect till Dickinson had finished playing cards.
Cowan saw the funny side with a smile for the big screen, but there was nothing humorous for the Hurricanes who face the Crusaders with an unexpexted L in their results column.
Hammett had preached discipline in the build up, but the penalties flowed to the tune of eight against the home team in the first half hour.
They included the sinbinning of Nonu on the half hour mark for an innocuous, but needless hand in the ruck.
Dickinson was dishing out penalties at two per minute for the opening quarter as the match struggled for any momentum.
Joseph's influence was clear on the southern men who flew into rucks on defence causing several turnovers.
Joseph cleverly tucked Sopoaga away at fullback on defence taking away a potential Hurricanes target.
Neither side was able to take full advantage with Cruden and Sopoaga missing two easy penalties apiece, but when Nonu went south the Highlanders grew an extra leg.
They even survived a torid final 10 minutes with only 14 players themselves after reserve hooker Breaydon Mitchell was sin-binned to complete their sixth win over the Hurricanes in 16 tries.
Highlanders 14 (Lima Sopoaga try; Sopoaga 2 pen, Robbie Robinson pen) Hurricanes 9 (Aaron Cruden 3 pen). Halftime: 11-6.
- with NZPA
- The Dominion Post
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