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Sydney – The Wellington Hurricanes edged their New Zealand rivals the Otago Highlanders 23-19 in a hard-fought Super Rugby match in Dunedin on Friday.
The lead changed six times and neither side was ahead by more than six points at Forsyth Barr Stadium as the Hurricanes outscored their last-placed opponents by three tries to one.
Conrad Smith, Ben Franks and TJ Perenara touched down for the Hurricanes while Beauden Barrett kicked their other eight points. Hosea Gear claimed the home side's only try and Colin Slade struck 14 with the boot.
“Maybe five more minutes and the Highlanders could have pushed themselves back in front,” Smith said. “We let ourselves down with the execution but we were a lot more direct and that's what got us the points in the end.”
It was a deserved second win of the season for the Hurricanes, who contributed much of the game's running rugby, even in the face of an improved performance by Otago following defeats to the Waikato Chiefs and the Cheetahs.
The Hurricanes recycled the ball quickly, especially in the first half, and scored the opening try after eight minutes following 13 phases of possession.
Brad Shields initially got across the line but was driven back before he could touch down by some fierce home defending.
The reprieve was short-lived, however, as the Hurricanes recycled the ball and popped it up to Smith, who took a half step back toward the passer and drove through a gap to score.
The conversion was missed and Slade then briefly put the home side ahead with two penalties before the half-hour mark.
Falling behind appeared to sting the Hurricanes into action and Victor Vito burst through a gap at pace after 32 minutes and passed to Franks on the wing.
The prop let fullback Ben Smith bounce off him and touched down in the left corner with Barrett adding the extras for a 12-6 lead.
Undeterred, the home side struck back as Gear spotted a gap in the line and went over for a try that Slade converted to give the Highlanders a slender 13-12 halftime lead.
Slade struck again just after the break before Perenara picked up from behind a pile of bodies on five metres, leapt over one prone opponent and twisted and turned through four tacklers before reaching out to ground the ball comfortably over the line to put his team 17-16 in front.
Jason Emery almost marked his first start for the Highlanders with a try but was forced into touch at the flag as he drove for the line.
Brad Thorn also came close to a remarkable try, beating two defenders before being hauled down just short before Slade made it 19-17 with another penalty.
The Hurricanes were back ahead by a point in the 66th minute when Barrett knocked over his first penalty of the match after John Hardie failed to release his man in the tackle.
The fly-half kicked his second five minutes later to complete the scoring and seal the victory. – Reuters