Hurricanes hold out Highlanders

Nick Evans missed a conversion after the siren, which saw his side one point short to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday, losing by 22-21.

Last weekend a missed conversion at the death gave the Highlanders victory. This weekend a missed conversion at the death denied the Highlanders victory. Last weekend Peter Hewat scored the try and missed the conversion. This weekend Nick Evans made the try and missed the conversion.

It was a thrilling finish as the Highlanders came rushing back from 22-16 down to be within a conversion of winning. That was the most exciting part of the match.

That – and the play of the two running first five-eighths, Jimmy Gopperth and Nick Evans, both players who play quickly and with derring-do. Gopperth had been brought back after a time when the Hurricanes sought direction elsewhere. That he is talented there is no doubt, and the Hurricanes’ astonishing first try showed that.

Gopperth and Piri Weepu had alternated the early goal-kicking till the Hurricanes settled on Weepu who was less accurate than usual. But he goaled two to give his side a 6-0 lead despite the absence of icon Tana Umaga.

Craig Newby had grubbered through. Paul Tito missed the bouncing ball but Jason Kawau got the ball to Lucky Mulipola. Umaga tackled Mulipola but then hung onto the ball in a position where quick ball would have been a huge advantage to the South Islanders. The referee sent Umaga to the sin bin.

The Hurricanes had suffered an even earlier setback when Jason Eaton damaged a left knee when tackled. He was taken off to hospital which would not have pleased the three All Black selectors at the match who were pleased to see Eaton tried at flank this week.

Evans and then Weepu took the score to 9-3 before Evans scored the match’s first try.

Viliame Waqaseduadua started it down the left. The Highlanders went far right and then came back left where Evans sped around prop Neemia Tialata and then, in Weepu’s tackle, got the ball on the ground up against the padding for the TMO to confirm the try. Evans converted and the Highlanders led 10-9 after 27 minutes.

Umaga, whose absence had not affected his team in terms of points for they had scored a penalty while he was away, thumped Charlie Hore off with a hand-off and put the Hurricanes onto the attack as Shannon Paku kicked downfield. Waqaseduadua saved but the line-out was deep in Highlander territory.

The try started in harmless fashion with the Hurricanes just outside of their 22. Gopperth chipped and sped after the ball. He flykicked it ahead and sped after it again. He flykicked again and, just ahead of James Wilson, gathered the bounce in the in-goal and scored. Weepu missed the comfortable conversion but the Hurricanes led 14-10. Weepu then goaled a penalty and so did Evans to make the score 17-13 at the break.

Gopperth had a great run from a scrum and it was the Hurricanes who scored first in the second half. The Highlanders lost a line-out and went right and then back left where strong Hosea Gear handed off Anton Oliver to score fairly close in, but again Weepu missed. 22-13 with 36 minutes to play.

Evans scored a penalty ten minutes later. 22-16. That’s how it stayed till those frantic last few minutes as the Highlanders did everything possible to score.

They ran with Evans sparking them but Tito saved a certain try with a tackle and knock-down. The Highlanders made a penalty into a five-metre line-out but the defence was strong. They had a five-metre scrum and the defence held till Evans sprinted on a diagonal going left and then, tackled, got the pass inside to Toby Morland who was on as a wing substitute for Mulipola.

The conversion was from five metres in from touch. The Wellington crowd rumbled to put the kicker off and as the kick flew wide to the left the final siren sounded.

Man of the Match: The choice is probably between

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