Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders overrun Hurricanes in 90-minute pre-season fixture at Dunedin

Midfielder Matt Whaanga has barged over for a late try double, as the Highlanders overpowered the Hurricanes 52-19 in a 90-minute Super Rugby Pacific pre-season tune-up at Dunedin's forsyth Barr Stadium.

The southerners entered the contest with a game already under their belt - a comeback win over Moana Pasifika last week - while the team from the capital were playing their first under new coach Clark Laidlaw.

Neither team had their All Blacks, with a smattering of other frontliners missing as well, yet opposing coaches Clarke Dermody and Laidlaw named a total of 68 players to contest the three 30-minute periods.

Sam Gilbert in action for the Highlanders.
Sam Gilbert in action for the Highlanders. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Highlanders were first on the board, after several phases within the Hurricanes 22 laid the platform for prop Daniel Lienert-Brown to plunge over for a try by the posts.

Befitting a team with limited preparation, the 'Canes struggled for continuity early, with first-five Brett Cameron missing touch with a penalty and hooker James O'Reilly overthrowing two lineouts.

Former All Blacks halfback Folau Fakatava had the second try, when he accepted a long infield pass from fullback Connor Garden-Bachop and outsped the defence to the posts. 

The Hurricanes finally broke their drought, when halfback Richard Judd broke towards the tryline and O'Reilly loomed down the right sidelined to score in the corner. Highlanders midifelder Sam Gilbert kicked a penalty, as the southerners closed out the first period 17-5 ahead.

Powerful No.8 Brayden Iose needed two attempts to score from an attacking scrum from the Hurricanes, but Highlanders captain Billy Harmon responded, after an outrageous behind-the-back pass from Welsh first-five Rhys Patchell.

Centre Tenielu Tele'a carved a wide path through the Hurricanes defence to extend the southerners' advantage and winger Jonah Lowe grabbed a try to end the second period, with his team ahead 38-12.

Whaanga barged over early in the final period, but halfback Kyle Preston got one back for the Hurricanes, when he ran a support line for Kini Naholo. 

As fulltime finally arrived, Whaanga had a second try to complete the scoring, putting the Highlanders over 50 points.

The Highlanders face defending Super Rugby champion Crusaders at Methven on Friday, before beginning their 2024 campaign against Moana Pasifika on February 24. The Hurricanes face the Pacific team in their final warm-up and open against Western Force.

Highlanders 52 (Whaanga 2, Lienert-Brown, Fakatava, Harmon, Tele'a & Lowe tries; Gilbert 5 conversions & penalty, Faleafaga 2 conversions) Hurricanes 19 (O'Reilly, Iose & Preston tries; Cameron & Godfrey conversions)