19 Mar 2017

Hurricanes wallop Highlanders

6:27 am on 19 March 2017

The Hurricanes blew away the Highlanders with a dominant second-half display as the defending Super Rugby champions got back to winning ways with a comprehensive 41-15 victory in Wellington.

Highlander Aaron Smith is confronted by a leaping Dane Coles as TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett look on.

Highlander Aaron Smith is confronted by a leaping Dane Coles as TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett look on. Photo: Photosport

See Jamie Wall's blog of the match here.

The 2016 champions ran in seven tries to two against their injury-ravaged opponents, who struggled to make inroads through makeshift first-five Fletcher Smith.

The decision to play Ardie Savea at No.8 paid dividends as the Test loose forward claimed a try and seven tackles, while the physical midfield duo of Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor stood out.

They'll take a week off before travelling to Brisbane to take on the Reds, while the Highlanders will lick their wounds before tussling with the Brumbies.

In further bad news for the Highlanders, All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa and Fletcher Smith look likely to join a long injury list after going off with concussions.

Test fullback Ben Smith pulled through the match unscathed.

"They took their chances. There were a few momentum swings there - they've got some world-class finishers," Highlanders loose forward Luke Whitelock said.

The Hurricanes hit the ground running on home turf, with makeshift No.8 Savea crashing over on the back of a maul in the 11th minute.

The Highlanders barely had a sniff in the first 20 minutes, struggling to secure decent territory off the boot of Fletcher Smith.

Hurricanes lock Mark Abbott was held up soon after then a Highlanders intercept paved the way for Fekitoa to fall inches short of the line.

A Smith penalty goal closed the gap as Fekitoa stumbled down the tunnel before Test halfback Smith dragged in two defenders and put Matt Faddes away for a clinical 33rd-minute try.

Behind despite their dominance, it was only a matter of time until the Hurricanes hit back and they did so through the in-form Laumape.

Stand-in fullback Jordie Barrett put an inch-perfect cross-field kick across to the midfielder, who made no mistake to crash over in the 35th minute.

Heading into the sheds 10-8 up, the Wellingtonians scored a quick five-pointer through Proctor before a TJ Perenara sin-binning gifted Highlanders loose forward Elliot Dixon a straightforward score.

Yet the Hurricanes weren't to be denied, holding out with a man less before Laumape, Julian Savea and a Vince Aso double closed out the match.

"We felt pretty good in the first half, we were just frustrated with the way we weren't clinical enough," Hurricanes No.10 Beauden Barrett said.

"It was just about building pressure and we thought we did that in the second half. We just needed to bring the urgency, start well and bring our game."