DUNEDIN – Waisake Naholo finished off a beautiful team try to ensure the Otago Highlanders kept up their hunt for the Super Rugby playoffs when they beat a spluttering Wellington Hurricanes 30-14 in Dunedin on Friday.
The Highlanders leapfrogged the Waikato Chiefs into third in the New Zealand conference and up to 40 points on the table, five behind the second-placed Hurricanes and 10 adrift of the competition-leading Canterbury Crusaders.
It was the second successive loss for the Hurricanes, who were humiliated by the Crusaders in atrocious conditions last week in Christchurch, after they had won their previous 10 games.
Replacement prop Tyrel Lomax scored his first Super Rugby try, while Tevita Li and Aaron Smith grabbed tries either side of halftime to give the home team the advantage they needed.
Jordie Barrett and tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen scored in each half for the visitors, who looked mostly clueless and disjointed on attack in the face of the Highlanders' swarming scramble defence.
The Highlanders took an 8-7 lead into halftime when Li scored five minutes after the hooter as the home side kept the ball alive and belied the fact they were playing with 14 men.
All Blacks flanker Liam Squire had been yellow carded following a farcical review of a scuffle that erupted on halfway, with Hurricanes winger Julian Savea lucky to avoid similar punishment after appearing to punch Squire.
Television replays, however, did not catch whether Savea had landed a clean punch and referee Ben O'Keeffe was unable to take the matter further.
The yellow card for a swinging arm high tackle by Squire also negated what would have been Barrett's second try that resulted from the same passage of play, and it appeared to motivate a fired-up Highlanders side in the second half.
The home side extended their lead after the break when scrumhalf Smith crossed following a jinking counter attack by fellow All Black Ben Smith.
Toomaga-Allen's try after a quick lineout throw caught the Highlanders napping to give the visitors the lead but Lomax's try against the base of the post after a series of penalties against the Hurricanes put the hosts ahead for good.
The competition takes a three-week break after this weekend's games for test matches in the southern hemisphere.