The Hurricanes yesterday blew away the Highlanders with a dominant second-half display as the defending Super Rugby champions got back to winning ways with a comprehensive 41-15 victory in Wellington.
Both teams went into the contest missing key players because of injury, but the Hurricanes were simply too powerful and too skillful on the day and ran out easy winners over their tiring opponents after being held to a two-point advantage at halftime.
Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso scored two tries apiece for the home side, with Ardie Savea, Julian Savea and Matt Proctor also touching down for the Hurricanes, who won their third match in four outings following last week’s loss to the Chiefs.
Matt Faddes and Elliot Dixon responded with a try each for the Highlanders, who were also guilty of coughing up 13 handling errors as they fell to their third loss in four matches.
“Our discipline was a key factor and I think our defense was outstanding tonight,” Hurricanes captain Dane Coles said in a pitchside interview. “We made sure we got that enjoyment back this week... but we had to work quite hard for it.”
The Hurricanes started the brighter and dominated possession, while the Highlanders looked to make the most of their chances with their back line runners on the counterattack on the few occasions they got their hands on the ball.
The home side were rewarded for their attacking endeavor in the 11th minute when Ardie Savea, playing at No. 8, collected the ball from an advanced line-out and touched down at the back of a driving maul.
Beauden Barrett, wayward off the kicking tee, missed the conversion and after Fletcher Smith slotted home a long-range penalty for the Highlanders in the 26th minute, the lead was down to two points as the visitors grew into the match.
Six minutes later, the Highlanders took the lead when, after turning down a routine kick in front of the posts, replacement center Faddes stormed through a gap in the home defense from the back of the scrum to make it 8-5 for the visitors.
The conversion was missed and the lead short-lived, as the Hurricanes made progress up the middle before spinning the ball out wide for Barrett to send a kick into the corner for Laumape to scoop up and go over for his first try and a 10-8 halftime lead.
The second half turned into a formality for the Hurricanes after Proctor scored an early try and Laumape canceled out Dixon’s effort in a period when home scrumhalf T.J. Perenara was sin-binned for a high tackle.
Once the hosts were back up to 15 men, Julian Savea rounded off a sweeping move down the left wing before Aso twice breached a demoralized Highlanders defense to complete the scoring.
In Sydney, Wallabies winger Henry Speight scored two second-half tries to lead the ACT Brumbies to a 28-12 win over the New South Wales Waratahs.
With the Brumbies leading a scrappy, but close match 14-7 midway through the second half, Speight put the visitors in command with a superb individual try from 50m out.
The Waratahs struck back with a try of their own to close the gap, but Speight then powered onto a ball 15m out and scored next to the posts to put the game beyond doubt, giving the Brumbies their third consecutive win over their archrivals.
“We knew coming up here it was always going to be a battle and the conditions weren’t the greatest, but it was a really good effort from both teams and I really liked grinding it out,” Brumbies captain Sam Carter said. “Henry’s in unbelievable form at the moment, and you see when he gets going he’s really hard to stop.”