Round Eight of the 2019 edition of Super Rugby began with a thrilling New Zealand derby as the Hurricanes handed the Highlanders a 31-28 defeat in Dunedin on Friday.
The visitors went into the clash in need of a change in fortunes, as they had gone three matches without a victory and were up against a side looking to bounce back after a convincing home defeat in their last outing.
It was the men from Otago who broke the deadlock after a quiet first quarter when Shannon Frizell dived over, with Marty Banks converting the score to take them seven clear.
That lead was short-lived as the ‘Canes responded soon after with All Blacks scrumhalf, TJ Perenara getting a five-pointer with Beauden Barrett adding the extra two to level matters.
Highlanders substitute hooker Josh Dixon was the next to cross the whitewash, as he provided the third try in the space of ten minutes – Banks obliging from the tee to restore the seven-point lead.
It took until two minutes from the break for the visitors to respond this time around when Ardie Savea scored the first of his two tries, as Barrett converted to make it 14-all.
The All Black pivot was the first on the board in the second half, slotting in a penalty to put the Hurricanes in the lead for the first time in the contest.
This was followed by a spirited response from the hosts, who scored 14 unanswered points with Kayne Hammington and Josh Lentjes dotting down within five minutes of one another, and Banks adding the extras.
That was the last of the Highlanders’ points as Ardie Savea completed his brace in the hour mark to reduce the deficit to five with help from Barrett’s boot, before Ngani Laumape crossed over five minutes later to wrestle back the lead, with the flyhalf making it 31-28 to the ‘Canes.
The Highlanders launched a strong response in the dying moments, but solid defence from their opponents saw them succumb to a fourth straight defeat as they remain fourth in the New Zealand Conference.
Watch: Highlanders 28-31 Hurricanes highlights here