Quarterfinal in Canberra awaits Highlanders

Highlander Max Hicks (left) and Isaia Walker-Leawere of the Hurricanes compete for lineout ball...
Highlander Max Hicks (left) and Isaia Walker-Leawere of the Hurricanes compete for lineout ball in their Super Rugby Pacific clash in Wellington on Saturday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Highlanders are heading to Canberra.

After they lost 41-14 to the Hurricanes, and the Blues failed to get a bonus point and finished second, the Highlanders will face the Brumbies in their playoff game on Saturday.

The Highlanders rested a few players for the weekend’s clash against the Hurricanes, but they will need to lift again against the third-placed Brumbies.

The Hurricanes were relentless at Sky Stadium and kept the Highlanders scoreless in the second half.

But it was the visitors who started strongly and secured an early 50:22.

Billy Harmon picked up the ball and dished off to Matt Whaanga in space, who got his legs pumping and got the ball up against the posts to score.

That gave the Highlanders a 7-0 lead in the opening three minutes.

But then the Hurricanes, who sit top of the table, played to their strengths with territory and rolled ahead.

Salesi Rayasi scored his first of the day and Du’Plessis Kirifi and TJ Perenara scored soon after.

Rayasi really put the pressure on with his second which put the Highlanders down 24-7.

The Highlanders got something going when halfback James Arscott kept the maul alive and moved forward.

The ball then landed with big Fabian Holland, who was outstanding defensively at the breakdown, who went over to make it a 10-point game.

From a Highlanders’ goal-line drop-out, the Hurricanes showed their power to keep forging ahead.

Kirifi showed his strength to drive his legs and then stretched out for the line to score.

It was a double-blow for the Highlanders when Connor Garden-Bachop was yellow-carded for head contact on Devan Flanders in the buildup.

The Highlanders held up the Hurricanes maul right on halftime for the Hurricanes to lead 29-14 at the break.

Coach Clarke Dermody yanked his entire front row at halftime — including Ethan de Groot in his 50th game — and lock Will Tucker failed his HIA and was replaced by Tom Sanders.

The game turned into a kicking contest early in the second as neither side really got their counter attack going.

Eventually the Hurricanes made their way into the 22, and while they would usually make no mistake, the Highlanders applied early pressure for the Hurricanes to spill the ball out the right.

But when they found their flair in the 22 next, they made no mistake.

Jordie Barrett made a dazzling break down the right wing, and what followed was some stunning running rugby.

The ball went through several hands, was straightened through Josh Moorby and found its way out to the left wing where Rayasi had an easy finish to bring up his hat-trick.

Highlanders second five Sam Gilbert was yellow-carded, leaving the Highlanders down to 14 again.

The Highlanders just never really got their attacking game going in the second half and were kept scoreless as a result.

The Hurricanes counter attack lit up again and the Highlanders fell off several tackles trying to bring down Barrett.

Billy Proctor burst down the side, kicked it forward and Finn Hurley commendably chased it down — with the Hurricanes players breathing down his neck — and pushed it down for a 5m scrum to the Hurricanes.

The Highlanders left a gap defensively on the blindside, and flanker Brayden Iose was too powerful off the base of the scrum and scored.

There appeared to be no stopping the Hurricanes and Riley Higgins was in to score, until Hurley came screaming across to tackle him into touch.

Young Hurley was fearless at the back for the Highlanders and again showed what a bright future he has ahead.


Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals

Chiefs v Reds, 7.05pm Friday, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton.

Hurricanes v Rebels, 4.35pm Saturday, Sky Stadium, Wellington

Blues v Drua, 7.05pm Saturday, Eden Park, Auckland

Brumbies v Highlanders, 9.35pm Saturday, GIO Stadium, Canberra.


Super Rugby Pacific

The scores

Hurricanes              41

Salesi Rayasi 3, Du’Plessis Kirifi 2, TJ Perenara, Brayden Iose tries; Brett Cameron 3 con.

Highlanders            14

Matt Whaanga, Fabian Holland tries; Sam Gilbert con 2.  Halftime:  29-14