WELLINGTON – The Ardie Savea-inspired Wellington Hurricanes survived a dramatic late fight-back to end Otago Highlanders' two-year home winning streak 31-28 in Dunedin Friday.
Flanker Savea scored two of the Hurricanes' four tries and prevented the Highlanders crossing the line at least once, with his ferocious defence in a frantic match that went down to the wire.
The Highlanders had three lineouts after the full-time siren but could not break through, slumping to their first loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium since March 4, 2017.
“Obviously the guys are hurting,” captain Luke Whitelock said after a fourth straight loss for the Highlanders. “But it's a long competition and we're just going to make sure we rock up (to training) Sunday and prepare well for the Crusaders next week.”
The result gives the Hurricanes five wins from eight matches and skipper TJ Perenara said it restored confidence after a 32-8 loss to Canterbury Crusaders last week.
“We played better footy and didn't make as many errors down their end of the field, which is something we did last week,” he said. “We had to look at ourselves and take our opportunities and tonight we did.”
It was an end-to-end start, with both sides enjoying early chances under the closed roof but squandering them through forward passes and handling errors.
The Highlanders drew first blood when Shannon Frizell barged over the line but TJ Perenara hit back on the next play to lock the scores at 7-7.
The home team's forwards then exerted control as hooker Ash Dixon scored from a driving maul only for Savea to level again with a length-of-the-field intercept try just before the break.
The Highlanders were missing injured All Black Aaron Smith but Kayne Hammington proved an able replacement at halfback, scoring his side's third try from the back of a scrum.
James Lentjes added a fourth from another lineout drive but Savea ensured it was not one-way traffic when he stepped around three defenders and narrowed the gap to 28-24.
Ngani Laumape put the Hurricanes ahead and they held on for the win even though lock Liam Mitchell was sin-binned as they defended the Highlanders' late flurry of lineouts.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)