'Canes edge Highlanders
One win became two as the Hurricanes edged a resurgent Highlanders outfit 23-19 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.
It was the most absorbing of matches, which saw the lead change hands seven times before Hurricanes pivot Beauden Barrett got his side home with two late penalties.
The Hurricanes outscored their hosts three tries to one, however the Highlanders kept themselves in the hunt through the boot of Colin Slade and threatened to steal victory at the death but just couldn't find a way through the visitors' yellow and black brick wall.
As a result, the injury-ravaged Highlanders were unable to prevent a third straight defeat - two at home - which keeps them winless in the competition.
The visitors were deserving of their losing bonus point and the Hurricanes equally of winning, though the Highlanders will know better than anyone that this was a missed opportunity that now leaves them playing catch-up for the remainder of the tournament.
The Hurricanes scored first when captain Conrad Smith made something out of nothing when taking a pass close to the line, and burst through two weak tackles for the opening try in the seventh minute.
Barrett was unable to add the extras, which allowed Slade to put the Highlanders in front with two successful three-pointers (6-5).
The home crowd were treated to a free-flowing spectacle but wouldn't have enjoyed Ben Smith bouncing off prop Ben Franks on his way to the tryline in what was a fantastic run by the All Blacks front-rower on the wing.
This time Barrett raised the flags from out wide and the Hurricanes were back in front (6-12).
Their celebrations were cut short though when Highlanders danger man Hosea Gear was rewarded for his hard work when he powered through Barrett for a try under the sticks. Slade's conversion took the hosts into the half-time sheds 13-12 ahead.
Slade continued were he left off in the second half with another successful kick at goal to stretch the Highlanders lead, but scrum-half TJ Perenara somehow twisted and turned his way through the defence to score a vital try for his team (16-17).
Once again, Barrett failed to find his target and when Slade slotted over his fourth penalty of the match, it looked like the Highlanders were on course to break their losing streak.
But Barrett had the last laugh with two penalties in the final quarter of the match to take his team back in front and seal the deal.
Pens: Slade 4
Tries: Smith, Franks, Perenara
Pens: Barrett 2
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Buxton Popoalii.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 tbc, 17 Reggie Goodes / Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Andre Taylor.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)