The Wellington Hurricanes held off the Otago Highlanders for a 17-11 Super Rugby Aotearoa victory in Wellington yesterday, a result hailed as “massive” by ’Canes captain T.J. Perenara.
The Hurricanes were cruising at 17-0 ahead, commanding more than 66 percent of possession in the second half, before the Highlanders came to life.
The visitors were within striking distance of snatching an unlikely victory as the clock ticked down, but lost their own throw at a lineout to allow the Hurricanes to hang on.
The three-tries-to-one win moved the Hurricanes past the Highlanders into third place halfway through the domestic version of the southern hemisphere club championship featuring the five New Zealand teams from the wider five-nation Super Rugby competition that was scrapped in March.
The Canterbury Crusaders are unbeaten in four games, the Auckland Blues are second having only lost to the Crusaders and the Waikato Chiefs are last with no wins.
“That was massive for us,” Perenara said.
The Hurricanes dominated by employing Ardie Savea, Asafo Aumua, Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso as battering rams to tie up the Highlanders’ defense.
Perenara said that there were still problem areas that need to be addressed, not least turning the ball over.
“What we will look at is we are giving away a lot of penalties that are getting teams up to our end of the field, which is hurting us,” he said.
Both sides had tries scrubbed out because of obstruction in the early skimishes.
It took until the 28th minute for Perenara to open the scoring when he neatly sidestepped his fellow All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith and strolled 10m to the line.
Jordie Barrett orchestrated the second try with a long pass to Kobus van Wyk to score in the corner.
The Hurricanes turned with a 12-0 lead and were quick to build on it when play resumed. After battering into the Highlanders defensive wall for more than five minutes, they found a crack for flanker Devan Flanders to dive through.
The Highlanders began their comeback with a Mitch Hunt penalty and a try from Aaron Smith, who ducked around the short side of a lineout maul to reduce the deficit to nine points.
A Hunt penalty seconds from the fulltime hooter secured a bonus point for the Highlanders and gave them one last chance to snatch victory, but they turned over the ball soon after the restart.
Meanwhile, former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has urged his former employers to be strong in their negotiations over the future of Super Rugby and that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) owed trans-Tasman neighbors Australia no favors.
Tensions between the organizations ratcheted up this week, with Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan saying he felt the relationship had deteriorated to one of a “master-servant.”
Hansen said that NZR should be doing what was best for their players.
“Without being controversial, we have been looking after the Aussies for years,” Hansen told Stuff Media. “And every time we have required something from them, particularly at a high level, sometimes they have gone missing.”
“Do we owe them something? No, but because we are the nation we are, and we care about the game more than just ourselves, we bend and buckle a bit,” he said. “I think NZ Rugby are in the mood for having strong discussions because they only get one shot at it.”
Much of the disagreement has centered on the composition of Super Rugby from next year, with both countries reportedly keen on exploring a trans-Tasman competition rather than reverting to a tournament that involves teams from South Africa and Argentina.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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