Highlanders down Canes in epic try-fest
What was supposed to be nothing more than a low-key curtain raiser to the Lions vs Wallabies decider tonight turned out to be a bit of a belter in the capital as the Highlanders produced another glimpse of what they might have been capable of this season in a 49-44 win over the Hurricanes.
With both teams well and truly out of playoff contention, and the game expected to be severely affected by wind and rain, this was supposed to be nothing more than a time filler before kick off in Sydney.
Instead, the Highlanders had run in four tries before halftime, one an absolute ripper from inside their own 22m which was eventually finished off by Mose Tuiali'i, in a performance reminiscent of their win over the Blues before the June test window.
Then the Hurricanes staged a second half fight back against a 14-man Highlanders team, with eleven tries in all for the night.
The Highlanders had been anticipating a storm in Wellington and had picked their team with that in mind.
But when the weather didn't arrive, both teams looked keen to celebrate as the opening stages featured more running that defence.
Colin Slade's future at the Highlanders is in some doubt as he comes off contact at the end of the season and eyes a return to the Crusaders.
After a wretched game against the Crusaders last weekend, particularly with the boot, Slade helped to ignite his troubled team, initiating tries to Tuiali'i and Tamati Ellison, the second coming when he showed a good eye for the gap and TJ Perenara was unable to defuse his speculating kick ahead.
Life hasn't been great for Slade in Dunedin. After two seasons wrecked by injury he returned in time to take part in an awful 2013 campaign which had netted just two wins from 12 starts before this weekend's penultimate round.
Along with Slade, Elliot Dixon had a strong game in the unfamiliar openside flanker's jersey, showing good pace and an offload to lay on a try for Aaron Smith after bursting off the back of a ruck, while Josh Bekhuis was also prominent in the Highlanders second row.
Kade Poki, like Ellison and Hosea Gear in the Highlanders backline, has already announced he's off at the end of the season, but he scored a beauty last night, standing up Marshall on the outside and then producing a fend to score the Highlanders bonus point try out of nothing on the hooter.
The Hurricanes had made the better of the early running, taking a 6-3 lead through the boot of Beauden Barrett.
For most of the first half, however, they were unable to take a trick.
James Marshall knocked on under the posts, Barrett was held up short.
While the Highlanders scored every time they got into a position to do so, the Hurricanes had to wait until late in the first half before Ash Dixon was able to reach an arm out and get the home team's first try.
Conrad Smith looked to spark his Hurricanes team in the second half and they were given a leg up when Aaron Smith was sent to the bin for a professional foul, with the home team laying on 14 points in his absence.
The final quarter of an hour dished up four tries, two apiece, and saw Bronson Murray binned for the Highlanders but the Hurricanes ran out of time.
Highlanders 49 (Mose Tuiali'i, Tamati Ellison, Aaron Smith, Kade Poki, Hosea Gear, Elliot Dixon tries; Colin Slade 3 pen, 3 con, Hayden Parker 2 con) Hurricanes 44 (Ash Dixon, Ben Franks, Julian Savea, Chris Smylie, James Broadhurst tries; Beauden Barrett 3 pen, 5 con). HT: 32-13