WELLINGTON – Hulking winger Ben Lam scored two tries as the Hurricanes beat the Highlanders 29-12 in a bruising New Zealand derby studded with moments of brilliance on Saturday to hand the visitors their first loss of the new season.
Lam struck in the corner at the end of both halves and his efforts combined with a score from flyhalf Beauden Barrett and a spectacular finish from replacement back Vince Aso were enough to give the 2016 champions their third win in four matches.
Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo also grabbed a brace but the 2015 champions were unable to contain the high octane Hurricanes attack when it really got going after the break.
The four-try-to-two margin was not enough for a bonus point and so the Hurricanes will head into week seven second in the New Zealand conference a point behind the reigning champion Canterbury Crusaders.
Beauden Barrett produced a moment of magic to open the scoring after six minutes when he was defending a kick through in his own half with four Highlanders bearing down on him.
The All Blacks flyhalf toed the ball back towards the Highlanders line, picked up his own grubber on the bounce, cut inside a tackler and raced away to touch down under the posts.
The Highlanders hit back in the 20th minute after a period of goal-line pressure when they shipped the ball down the line off the 11th phase and Naholo was able to cross untouched.
Lam crossed in the corner to send the home side into halftime with a 12-5 advantage, his try only confirmed once the TMO had determined that the orange boot that went into touch was that of a defender rather than the Hurricanes winger.
The lead only lasted for only two minutes of the second half, though, before Naholo score his second try, showcasing his own football skills to take a kick through away from the defenders before gathering the ball and touching down.
Jordie Barrett edged the Hurricanes back in front with a long-range penalty after 48 minutes but it his contribution to Aso's try that was probably more influential.
The Hurricanes broke down the right and the fullback exchanged two passes with Aso before sending the winger into the corner where he somehow managed to touch down while airborne in a front flip.
That left the Highlanders trailing by 10 points with 13 minutes remaining and their hopes of overhauling the deficit were ended when Lam went over for his second try six minutes from time.