Highlanders pip Canes 17-16 in Super Rugby

Replacement five-eighth Hayden Parker has slotted a late penalty for the defending champion Highlanders to edge out the Hurricanes 17-16 in their Super Rugby clash in Dunedin.

The goal came five minutes from time on Saturday and the Highlanders held on to bounce back from their opening-round defeat to the Blues.

Parker’s successful kick had followed two moments in quick succession that went against the Highlanders during a frantic finish to the game.

With 12 minutes to go, centre Malakai Fekitoa crashed his way to the line and forced the ball against the padding of an upright.

However, after referral to the television official, Fekitoa was ruled not to have planted the ball against the base of the padding.

From the ensuing scrum, halfback Aaron Smith worked a move with replacement No.8 Liam Squire who went through a big hole to touch down, but the pass was ruled forward.

The match was a replay of last year’s final and, for the Hurricanes, it was a second successive defeat to start the season.

They showed more intensity than in their 52-10 walloping at the hands of the Brumbies in Canberra last week and they had plenty of possession.

But in warm, humid conditions in the covered stadium, mistakes meant they didn’t take full advantage.

A Beauden Barrett penalty gave the Hurricanes an early lead before All Blacks teammate Fekitoa scored the opening try.

Fekitoa began the attack and then finished it after five-eighth Lima Sopoaga put him in space.

Sopoaga missed the conversion, but landed a penalty to edge the Highlanders five points ahead.

Both sides showed their intent to move the ball, but it was the Hurricanes who dominated possession and Barrett closed the gap with his second penalty.

Sopoaga responded with another goal after a strong Highlanders scrum and kicked his third penalty early in the second half for a 14-6 lead.

The Hurricanes finally made it over the tryline when they managed to combine patience with accuracy, pounding away before halfback TJ Perenara sniped his way over.

Barrett’s conversion nudged them in the lead and he almost created a try that would have put them further ahead.

Under a penalty advantage, he produced a cross-kick to Julian Savea, but the winger was held up in a big defensive play by Sopoaga.

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