Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders on the attack during the Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Photo by Getty
And just like that, the pressure is back on the Hurricanes.
After opening their Super Rugby campaign with three losses,
they kept the knockers at bay for a brief period with a 60-27
destruction of the Cheetahs last weekend but they were
brought back to reality as the Highlanders knocked them over
35-31 in Dunedin tonight.
As has been a problem for most of the season, the Hurricanes
fell off plenty of tackles, made basic errors and looked
stunted on attack.
Coach Mark Hammett has been in the firing line from the
Hurricanes' faithful this season and there's no reason to
think the blowtorch won't be applied to him and his
management team again in the coming week as they look to get
their season on track.
Considering the Crusaders are on the agenda next, things
won't get any easier for the Hurricanes, who have problems
across the board but never seem to look completely out of the
games they play.
Halfback Chris Smylie was a late scratching for the
Hurricanes tonight, which was a tough blow for the visitors
given the veteran No 9 had looked sharp against the Cheetahs
last week but his withdrawal presented a chance for TJ
Perenara to redeem himself after an indifferent start to the
The halfback did have a hand in a late Hurricanes try with a
deft offload, although his kicking and option-taking are
still areas of concern.
Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has been a revelation this
season after spending 2013 as a full-time training partner at
The Tongan-born speedster has looked dangerous on attack all
year and delivered a thunderous hit on his opposite number
Conrad Smith early in the second spell.
A forgettable first half, that was dominated by penalty
goals, was quickly put to bed in the second stanza when
Highlanders second-five Phil Burleigh bagged a five-pointer
in the 50th minute after some phenomenal work from
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith.
Smith was one of the best on show during the game and must be
planting some thoughts in to the mind of All Blacks coach
Steve Hansen ahead of the June tests.
Smith's vision and ability to find his way through gaps,
while also holding the ball up in the tackle are a fine mix
of skills, while he is also astute under the high ball.
When Hurricanes midfielder Hadleigh Parkes threw a pass,
which was intercepted by rampaging wing Patrick Osborne
mid-way through the second half, the Highlanders eased out to
a 35-12 advantage.
Late tries to Ben Franks and Beauden Barrett (two) saw the
Hurricanes claw their way back in to the contest but it
wasn't enough to see them pull off a comeback win as they
dropped their fourth contest of the campaign.
Despite missing a dolly of a penalty goal in the early
stages, Lima Sopoaga, a Wellington born, raised and educated
five-eighth, had an absolute bumper evening off the kicking
tee and he eventually landed nine from 10, including seven
conversions and two penalties.
Highlanders 35 (Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne tries;
Lima Sopoaga 7 pen, 2 con) Hurricanes 31 (Beauden
Barrett 2, Ben Franks tries; Barrett 4 pen, 2 con) Halftime: