Replacement flyhalf Chris Noakes landed a late penalty to give the Otago Highlanders a 19-17 win over the Wellington Hurricanes yesterday as they maintained their winning start to the Super Rugby season.
Noakes landed the 35m effort from the right flank in the 75th minute to make it four wins from four for the Highlanders and take them back to the top of the New Zealand Conference.
The Highlanders failed to reach the high level of play they had demonstrated in the three previous wins, but were happy to edge another hard-fought game.
“Four wins, pretty happy, but obviously a lot to work on,” Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh said in a pitchside interview. “We really know how to close out a game, there was a lot of composure. Winning instills confidence.”
The visitors started strongly and looked like they would win comfortably as All Black flyhalf Colin Slade stroked over two penalties , punishing the Hurricanes for routinely infringing in the opening stages.
Slade then dove over from close range for the first try of the match in the 16th minute after scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan’s tap penalty and dart put them deep into Wellington’s 22m line.
Slade swept over the conversion from in front of the posts to stretch the lead to 13-0 as the Highlanders looked like they were going to cut loose.
However, Wellington emerged from their early slumber, flyhalf Beauden Barrett kicking a penalty after 29 minutes to get them on the scoreboard.
Barrett then kicked an easy effort two minutes later before his pinpoint pass set up All Black winger Cory Jane for the Hurricanes’ opening try in the 37th minute.
Barrett then sent over his third penalty from 35m right on halftime to send the home side into the break 14-13 ahead.
Slade slotted another penalty nine minutes into the second half to put the Highlanders back in front 16-14 after the Hurricanes infringed at a ruck.
The Highlanders were well on top and thought they had their second try as winger Kade Poki crossed after a sweeping move, but the replacement referee ruled it out for a forward pass.
Barrett converted another penalty from 40m to put the Hurricanes ahead 17-16 with 11 minutes remaining, before Noakes struck after the home side were guilty of not releasing the ball.
“We had a bit of trouble getting out of our own zone,” Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said after their second defeat in four matches. “To be honest both sides struggled. We could have ended up winning, but we still wouldn’t have been happy.”