Super Rugby Aotearoa: Second half clinic sees Hurricanes thump Highlanders

The Hurricanes have ended their Super Rugby Aotearoa season in style, with a second-half clinic to thump the Highlanders 41-22 at Sky Stadium in Wellington. 

Both sides were playing for pride, as the inaugural final was already locked in between the Chiefs and Crusaders. But that didn't stop both teams from putting on a show. 

The game swung on the back of two captain's challenges that saw the Hurricanes score a try of their own and rule out one from the visitors.

The home side didn't look back, as they ran in six tries - four of them in the second half - to claim just their second victory of a disappointing season.

The visitors - who handed former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder a Highlanders debut - made a bright start with a penalty goal through Mitch Hunt after a messy opening from the home side.

The Hurricanes bounced back just five minutes later with a brilliant team try. Flanker Devon Flanders capped off a scintillating play from Dane Coles and wing Salesi Rayasi to score the games first try. 

The contest was heated throughout, and it boiled over when Highlanders first-five Mitch Hunt and Hurricanes skipper Coles were both sent to the sin bin by referee Ben O'Keeffe for push and shove. 

The visitors pounced to score two tries in 10 minutes through lock Josh Dixon and wing Jona Nareki to open up a handy lead.

The home side would've wondered how they found themselves 10-points behind as they bombed what looked like two certain tries through halfback Luke Campbell and Rayasi, but the game swung just before halftime.

The Highlanders used their captain's challenge when Aaron Smith was looking for a penalty for foul play. Replays showed Billy Harmon was holding Coles off the ball.

This handed the home side a penalty out of nowhere and they cashed in when Coles finished off a lineout drive a minute before the break.  

There was still time for a late Jordie Barrett penalty goal to send the visitors into the sheds with a slender two-point lead. 

The second half continued at the frenetic pace the opening stanza was played at, with Hurricanes midfielder Ngani Laumape scoring inside 60-seconds before it looked like Highlanders wing Sam Gilbert responded with a try of his own. 

Coles used his sides captains challenge to perfect effect to overturn the try for a knock-on in the lead and from there, the 'Canes never looked back. 

They ran in three more tries through Rayasi, Brayden Iose - his first in Super Rugby - and Du'Plessis Kirifi to round out the 19-point victory. 

The Highlanders got a consolation try through co-captain Ash Dixon but it was too little too late and as the Hurricanes recorded just their second win of the season, both against the side from the deep south. 

Both sides will have a week off before kicking off the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition.

The Hurricanes will travel to Sydney in the opening round to take on the New South Wales Waratahs while the Highlanders host the Queensland Reds. 

Hurricanes 41 (Flanders, Coles, Laumape, Kirifi, Iose, Rayasi tries; Barrett 4 conversions, penalty goal) bt Highlanders 22 (Dickson, Nareki, Dixon tries; Hunt penalty goal, conversion, Gilbert conversion)