This was a less-than-ideal result for the Hurricanes, who started badly, played sensibly in the middle and finished with a amateurish defensive effort. In the first few minutes of the match, it was the Highlanders who blitzed the home team, when a slick lineout manoeuvre saw Byron Kelleher slide past the defence unhindered and score. Shortly afterwards, Tony Brown made a nuisance of himself down the blindside and got the ball to Pita Alatini. The resulting try meant that with most of the first half to go, the Hurricanes were already down two tries.
It was then a credit to the ‘Canes that their discipline held and they gradually played their way back into the game, leading 19-18 at halftime. This was largely achieved through keeping the ball in the right half and David Holwell kicking every penalty shot that was offered. In wet conditions, the opportunity for running rugby diminished, but after a sustained period of possession and attack, midfielder Steinmetz created a gap for himself and passed to David Holwell, who scored and converted his own try.
Not long after the start of the second half, the Hurricane forwards began to fire and gave Christian Cullen enough space to score another of his specialty ‘tries from nowhere’. Happily for the home team, this also coincided with Highlanders’ captain Anton Oliver, limping off the field with injury. But, unfortunately for the spectators, the first half pattern continued: ill-discipline from the Highlanders and David Holwell kicking penalty goals from everywhere. The problems seemed to be compounded for the visitors when acting captain Tony Brown was binned for one too many high tackles.
When Brown returned (in the 72nd minute), the improvement in play was noticeable from the Highlanders and shortly afterwards, it was the Hurricanes who were reduced to 14 men, when halfback Jason Spice was sinbinned for a professional foul. Two tries followed in quick succession from the Highlanders, earning them two valuable bonus points which now put them in the top four of the Super 12 table.
This was never going to be an easy game for the Hurricanes, but they let themselves down by not defending with enough intensity in the early and late stages of the match. The Highlanders showed that they will play competitively and defend solidly for 80 minutes, qualities which should assure them a place in the semi-finals.