Highlanders crumble against ruthless Hurricanes

Highlanders forwards Max Hicks (right) and Fabian Holland clear out Hurricanes halfback Cam...
Highlanders forwards Max Hicks (right) and Fabian Holland clear out Hurricanes halfback Cam Roigard, an incident that prompted a scuffle between the teams at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night. Highlanders hooker Henry Bell is also pictured. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The Hurricanes huffed and puffed and blew the house down.

Super Rugby Pacific’s pace-setters were ruthless and relentless as they roared to a 47-12 win over the Highlanders in front of a crowd of 11,556 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.

They were almost outrageously dominant as they raced to a 33-0 lead inside 42 minutes.

Much of the damage was done in the forwards, where Peter Lakai, Brayden Iose and Brad Shields ran amok, though Ruben Love and Kini Naholo also carved up out wide.

The Highlanders, as they did in the first half against the Chiefs last week, looked just a little shell-shocked.

Their defensive structure crumbled, their lineout fell apart and their best-laid plans of avoiding a 19th straight loss to New Zealand opposition were obliterated.

The Highlanders got better later in the game, despite a worrying injury toll, but this was very much a reminder they are some way off the pace of the best sides.

The first half was remarkably entertaining.

Just, er, a pity that most of the entertainment was provided by the unbeaten Hurricanes with the exception of a couple of thrilling but fruitless Highlanders counter-attacks.

The tone was set early as the visitors — for whom the conditions under the roof are tailormade — charged hard and often into space.

Their forwards were relentless, and after a couple of dangerous forays into Highlanders territory, they began to cut loose.

Highlanders fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens stopped one attack but was adjudged to have transgressed in doing so, and his reward was a yellow card.

The Hurricanes duly scored through big prop Xavier Numia in close.

Their second try was glorious stuff, featuring forwards running and passing like backs, and rising flanker Lakai charging over the line.

Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens returned to the field and nearly created some magic when his delicate kick was regathered by Jona Nareki with some acrobatic skills.

The move fizzled out and Nareki promptly went down with an injury, meaning Josh Timu came into the game for his first Highlanders appearance in a year.

Folau Fakatava made one of his signature runs to get the crowd fizzing, but the rest of the half belonged to the Hurricanes.

Livewire hooker Asafo Auma scored off a lineout, and after a super Love run, All Blacks halfback Cam Roigard darted from a ruck and reached out for a try.

The Highlanders did play some rugby but they found a way — an intercept here, a turnover there, a shocking kick here, a bungled lineout there — to turn every promising move into dust.

They were also not helped by more injuries as lock Fabian Holland and No 8 Tom Sanders left the field before halftime.

In an awful hole for a second straight week, the Highlanders needed a similarly spirited comeback to the one they managed against the Chiefs.

What they did not need was for Rhys Patchell — who really did not have one of the best games of his glittering career — to throw an intercept immediately after the break that led to a Josh Moorby runaway try.

Fakatava finally gave the Highlanders fans reason to cheer with a classic dummy-and-dart try.

The start of a glorious comeback? Or a false dawn?

That judgement would have to wait, as there was a lengthy delay while Roigard received lengthy treatment for a leg injury then left the field on a stretcher, a worrying sight for All Blacks fans.

A more pleasant moment was a Highlanders debut for reserve prop Rohan Wingham.

Roigard’s replacement, TJ Perenara, scored the Hurricanes’ sixth try, but the Highlanders responded when Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens fought hard to get over the line and replays showed he had got the ball down.

There was nearly a wonderful late moment for Ajay Faleafaga — he must be due a start for the Highlanders, as he has done extremely well off the bench — but after he had dribbled the ball ahead twice with his foot and touched down, the TMO found he had earlier knocked on with his hand.

Regrettably, the final moment was, ye gods, yet another errant Highlanders pass that was snaffled by replacement lock Justin Sangster to make it seven tries for the Hurricanes.

Super Rugby

The scores

Hurricanes 47

Xavier Numia, Peter Lakai, Asafo Aumua, Cam Roigard, Josh Moorby, TJ Perenara, Justin Sangster tries; Brett Cameron 4 con, Jordie Barrett 2 con

Highlanders 12

Folau Fakatava, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens tries; Sam Gilbert con

Halftime: Hurricanes 26-0.