Jordie Barrett handed the Hurricanes their first win of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, scoring all the points in a 30-19 demolition of the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
Gameflow: Barrett hijacked what was supposed to be a celebration of Aaron Smith’s 154th appearance for the Highlanders, making the veteran scrumhalf the most capped player in franchise history. By the time Smith slinked off the field at the start of the final quarter, Barrett had scored 27 points.
The Highlanders came out with great endeavour, making all the right moves in all the right places. That is, right up until they got within Bluetooth range of the tryline.
The Hurricanes spent most of the first half tackling in the shadow of their uprights, but what let them off the hook was a string of Highlanders errors and penalties, including flanker Shannon Frizell dropping the ball in the act of dotting down.
Something else that aided the visitors was, every time they got the pill, they gave it to Barrett and he scored. And where the Canes fullback converted every place-kick, his Highlanders opposite, Josh Ioane was striking it at 50 percent efficiency.
Though the Hurricanes’ tackle-completion wasn’t great in the first half, they were pythons at the breakdown. This constricted the hosts long enough for a slick Hurricanes attack to convert rare trips across halfway, and the defence tightened up in the third quarter before some sloppy attack allowed the Highlanders to salvage some respect on the scoreboard.
Match milestones: Jordie Barrett smashed a 50-metre penalty to put the scoreboard operator to work on the five-minute mark, and the Hurricanes fullback struck again three minutes later to round off an attacking lineout strike which he converted for a 10-0 lead.
The scoreline belied a contest that was dominated by the Highlanders for the first 30 minutes as the home team controlled both possession and territory during that period and yet somehow failed to score a single point – made more exasperating by the fact that they were playing against 14 men after Hurricanes prop Tyrell Lomax was sin-binned for collapsing a maul.
Lock Bryn Evans gave the Highlanders some relief when he broke from the back of a maul to convert an attacking lineout into five points, made seven by fullback Josh Ioane.
But it wasn’t long before their blood pressure spiked as Barrett latched onto an offload to dive over under the crossbar for a 17-7 lead at the break.
The fullback must have spent half-time on the spinning bike because he hit the second 40 at speed, taking an inside pass to score (and convert) his hat-trick three minutes after the restart (24-7).
Barrett took a 10-minute break from scoring but the Highlanders insisted on not stealing any of the limelight, with more unforced errors and ill-discipline teeing up the Hurricanes fullback to split the uprights with another 50-metre rocket.
Fluent attack from the Highlanders saw winger Connor Garden-Bachop sprint over in the left corner at the start of the final quarter but on a day when things weren’t going the home team’s way, Ioane’s conversion rebounded off the uprights (27-12).
Ioane got it right after replacement centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen scored the Highlanders’ third try, but Barrett signed off with one final penalty at full-time before the ref blew the final whistle.
Full value: Barrett’s 30-point haul came from three tries, three conversions and three penalties. The fullback also made three clean breaks and beat four defenders on six carries.
More digits: During an opening half-hour in which they failed to score a single point, the Highlanders made four clean breaks, beat 19 defenders and boasted almost 90 percent territory and 70 percent possession!
He’s back: Fit-again Dane Coles made a solid return to play. The All Blacks and Hurricanes hooker got through 50 minutes of work, feeding a lineout that operated at 87 percent efficiency and contributing six tackles and one carry to the cause.
What does it mean?: The win leapfrogs the Hurricanes over the Highlanders into third place on the standings, though the last-placed Chiefs would overtake both if they beat the Blues on Saturday.
It’s the Jordie Barrett show here in Dunedin!
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) March 26, 2021