The Hurricanes (or more accurately Jordie Barrett) have upset the Highlanders in Dunedin tonight, winning their first Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa game of the season 30-19. It’s their first win of the year and ruined what was a record-breaking night for Aaron Smith.
Barrett put on a master class, scoring all the points in his side’s win through a hat trick of converted tries and two trademark monster penalties. It was a stunning response from the Hurricanes after their disappointing capitulation last weekend against the Chiefs and showed that talk of their demise in the competition is very premature.
However, the Highlanders will be wondering just how this game got taken away from them by such a comfortable scoreline. They dominated territory and possession in the first half, making several trips into the Hurricanes’ 22 for no reward. By contrast it only took the visitors one attacking lineout to get over the tryline, with a well worked backline move sending Barrett over for his first after 10 minutes. Shannon Frizell will be kicking himself for butchering what should have been the equaliser moments later, dropping the ball cold as he stretched out to score.
Veteran Bryn Evans, who made two test appearances for the All Blacks way back in 2009, muscled over after half an hour. Even then, though, they had to work for every bit of it by a tough Hurricanes’ defensive effort and a got a little bit of luck with a debatable reversed penalty. That was immediately rubbed out by a nice offload from Salesi Rayasi for Barrett to score under the posts and restore the 10-point lead.
The events of last weekend would have been hammered home in the changing sheds for the Hurricanes, as they came out in the second half determined not to let the comfortable lead slip away again. They made a perfect start as Barrett completed his hat trick, then tacked on some insurance 12 minutes later with his second penalty from his side of halfway.
Connor Garden-Bachop finally got the Highlanders back on track with a slick finish in the corner, but as the game ticked over the hour mark, it was clear that the Hurricanes now firmly had the upper hand. A strong set piece was now giving them a fair chunk of the ball and they kicked intelligently to simply stifle any hope the Highlanders had. A late try by Thomas Umaga-Jensen was too little, too late, and Barrett rubbed some salt into the wound with an 80th minute penalty goal that set a new Super Rugby Aotearoa individual points scoring record.
The return of Dane Coles made a massive difference to the Hurricanes forwards. Rayasi was again impressive with some good kicking and general play, while rookie halfback Luke Campbell wasn’t overawed at all with having to mark Aaron Smith in his 154th game for the Highlanders. It was a record-breaking achievement for Smith, surpassing former All Black team mate Ben Smith, but it counted for little at full time as the Highlanders had to trudge off asking themselves what just happened.
They now play the Chiefs next weekend back in Dunedin, while the Hurricanes will be after some revenge against the Blues at Eden Park.
Hurricanes 30 (Jordie Barrett 3 tries; Barrett 3 pen, 3 con)
Highlanders 19 (Bryn Evans, Connor Garden-Bachop, Thomas Umaga-Jensen tries; Josh Ioane 2 con)
HT: 17-7 Hurricanes