Savea brilliance steals victory for Canes
A controversial try to Faifili Levave and a powerhouse break from Julian Savea proved the difference as the Hurricanes stole a 26-20 win against the Highlanders at Dunedin Stadium tonight.
Forced to defend for much of the game, Levave's second half try and some poor handling at the wrong times by the Highlanders saw the Hurricanes take a sixth win to bring them back into Super Rugby play-offs contention and leave the Highlanders grasping after back to back losses.
The Highlanders will count themselves desperately unlucky after controlling large parts of the game only to see the Hurricanes pull back into the contest on the back of a try which started with Jason Eaton clearly putting his foot into touch.
Still, after Mike Delany had kicked the Highlanders to a one point lead, it was an outstanding break from Savea which sealed the game for the Hurricanes.
The Highlanders looked at their best when they got quick ball off the top of the lineout from Adam Thomson and Jarrad Hoeata, with Hosea Gear and Siale Piutau coming off their wings to put a dent in the Hurricanes defensive line.
Playing with so much possession, particularly during the first half, the Highlanders were able to run hard onto some good ball from Aaron Smith, who seemed to have got some of his mojo back.
After dropping too much ball during the opening exchanges, the Highlanders finally got it right after quarter of an hour when quick ruck ball gave Noakes a chance to run at a flat-footed Hurricanes defence.
A couple of poorly attempted tackles later and Noakes had crashed over to put the home team into the lead.
Fortune favoured a brave call from stand-in skipper Andrew Hore soon after when he elected to go to the line rather than kick a wide penalty.
Easy ball from Adam Thomson in the middle of the lineout eventually saw the same player reach out near the posts for the Highlanders second try.
The Highlanders would have had a third soon after halftime when Phil Burleigh found himself in space.
He was hammered into the corner by an outstanding tackle from Andre Taylor and after Noakes had converted a penalty, the Hurricanes hit back with the Levave try.
Instead of having the 'Canes chasing the scoreboard, they found themselves trailing by a solitary point despite playing limited amounts of rugby.
It's hard not to admire a team which can stay in a game surviving more on crumbs than scraps, thanks in large part to the heady ability of Beauden Barrett.
A late tackle, an unnecessary play by Thomson on TJ Perenara earned the Hurricanes the penalty which saw them take a 19-17 lead heading into the final 10 minutes and then Savea struck the final blow.
Hurricanes 26 (Faifili Levave, Julian Savea tries; Beauden Barrett 4 pen, 2 con) Highlanders 20 (Chris Noakes, Adam Thomson tries; Noakes 2 con, pen, Delany pen). HT: 9-14.