Super Rugby Pacific: Hurricanes extend lead atop table, but lose All Blacks halfback Cam Roigard to injury against Highlanders

The unbeaten Hurricanes have consolidated their reign atop the Super Rugby Pacific table, but suffered a potentially calamitous injury to star halfback Cam Roigard, as they overwhelmed the Highlanders 47-12 at Dunedin.

Now the only 6-0 team left in the competition, the team from the capital were never seriously challenged by the southerners, leading 26-0 at halftime and adding another converted try after the break, before the home side could respond.

Roigard was in the thick of their efforts, as he had been all season, but stayed down, after colliding with referee Damon Murphy and then buried at the bottom of a ruck. He was stretchered off with what looked like a serious knee injury that may have far-reaching repercussions, both domestically and internationally.

Cam Roigard is stretchered off Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Cam Roigard is stretchered off Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo credit: Photosport

The Highlanders lost fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens early, when he made a goal-line tackle, but got himself offside at the breakdown. From the ensuing scrum, Roigard went close, but prop Xavier Numia finally found the chalk after a couple of phases.

Flanker Peter Lakai had the second try, after Roigard bounced a well-weighted kick into touch beside the corner flag and the Hurricanes forwards stole possession inside the 22.

The home side had a chance to respond, when Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens returned to put a clever chipkick ahead, well gathered by winger Jona Nareki, but as they surged towards the posts, Nareki could not take a return pass and immediately left the field injured.

Moments later, halfback Folau Fakatava broke over halfway, but could not find his support, with the tryline beckoning. 

The Hurricanes scored their third try from an attacking lineout, that became a slow-developing maul, with hooker Asafo Aumua patient at the back, until he was carried over the line.

Roigard finally had his try, when fullback Ruben Love claimed the kickoff and surged into Highlanders territory, with the forwards again laying the platform from close range.

The southerners had another chance from an attacking lineout, but first-five Rhys Patchell offloaded to his opposite Love. From another lineout, Patchell attempted a long floater to his winger, but Love picked it off again to clear.

The visitors led 26-0 at halftime, with the Highlanders also losing forwards Tom Sanders and Fabian Holland to failed headchecks. 

Immediately after the restart, Patchell threw another loose pass that was gratefully received by winger Josh Moorby, as the Hurricanes advantage grew.

The Highlanders finally moved the scoreboard, after several phases near the tryline, with Fakatava dummying and diving across between the posts.

Josh Timu, who had returned from a long injury layoff to replace Nareki, was himself led from the field, adding to the southerners' woes, but none of them matched the coming blow to Hurricanes and All Blacks hopes.

Midway through the second half, Roigard stayed down after taking a tackle, clutching his left leg. Replays showed what seemed to be a dislocated kneecap and he was stretchered off the park. 

Fortunately for the Hurricanes, they could bring their most-capped veteran - TJ Perenara - off the bench to replace their star No.9 and he was next to score, after a scrum tighthead on the tryline and a flick between the legs by Lakai at the back of the pack.

The seven-pointer saw Perenara equal Julain Savea as the franchise's top tryscorer.

Seeking some consolation, Highlanders captain Billy Harmon took a quick tap and Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was initially held up over the line, but eventually grounded for a try.

From the kickoff, replacement AJ Faleafaga seemed to pounce on a loose ball and toed it ahead to score, but replays showed a knockon in the process, so no try. 

As the final siren sounded, Highlanders centre Jonah Lowe attempted a short dropout, but his pass found replacement forward Justin Sangster, as the visitors put the exclamation mark on their performance.

Hurricanes and Highlanders come together at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Hurricanes and Highlanders come together at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo credit: Photosport

While the performance was celebrated, there was also a mood of apprehension over the injury to Roigard. 

"I don't know what comes after phenomenal, but it's him at the moment," lamented captain Brad Shields. "We're lucky to have him in our squad and it's really upsetting to see him down in such a heap."

Immediately afterwards, coach Clarke Laidlaw was no wiser about his halfback's health.

"It takes a lot for Cam to stay down," he said. "Fingers crossed, it's not as serious as it looked, but I guess that's rugby - there's nothing you can do about injuries."

The Hurricanes now have a bye week to contemplate their options, before resuming their campaign against the Chiefs on April 13.

Hurricanes 47 (Numia, Lakai, Aumua, Roigard, Moorby, Perenara & Sangster tries; Cameron 4 & Barrett 2 conversions) Highlanders 12 (Fakatava & Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens try; Gilbert conversion)