Highlanders pip hosts in 93-point epic
The Highlanders have moved from the foot of the Investec Super Rugby ladder with a tight 49-44 win in a thriller at Westpac Stadium.
Orchestrated by a brilliant Colin Slade, it looked as if the Highlanders' attack would only be bettered by some strong southern defence.
Yet it was a yellow card to halfback Aaron Smith in the second half that allowed the Hurricanes to dream as they reduced the deficit to 27-35 with 20 minutes to play.
More defensive leaks from either side saw the match continue to produce tries from nowhere as two teams with nothing to play for but pride battled to the end in an entertaining if not error-riddled encounter.
Slade had a superb 60 minutes on the field and co-ordinated at least two of the Highlanders opening three tries with an astute kicking performance.
By contrast, it was the Hurricanes' ability to attack from nowhere that saw them inch ever close to the Highlanders total and when Bronson Murray was yellow carded with three minutes to go the hosts stared at an eight-point deficit.
Beauden Barrett duly converted and reduced the gap to five with a minute to play and a scrum to lay down.
But it wasn't enough as the Highlanders held on for their first away win of the season in seven attempts. The victory moves the Highlanders above the Southern Kings in second-last.
A first quarter blitz saw the Highlanders race out to a 27-6 lead as the Highlanders dined out on loose tackles and poor finishing from the Hurricanes.
Slade started the rot when a pass to Gear saw the former Hurricanes wing dash well over 60m before a pass to Tony Woodcock was then passed to Mose Tuiali'i, who scored his side's opener.
The confidence from the southern franchise grew throughout the opening quarter as Slade's boot bamboozled halfback TJ Perenara, with Ellison cashing in.
A try soon after to halfback Aaron Smith, saw the Highlanders race to a commanding three-try lead within the opening 20 minutes.
From there the Hurricanes were able to secure a try through Ash Dixon, his first in Super Rugby. It looked as if the hosts would take a 14-point deficit into the half-time break only for Poki to score on the whistle.
The Hurricanes roared back in the second half after Smith's yellow card. However, the Highlanders responded with two quick tries to expand their lead to 15 points with little over 10 minutes to play.
Even then the Highlanders couldn't finish the game and the Hurricanes came at them with a desperation to finish their penultimate match on a high.
Instead it was the visitors who roared in elation, the spoils of a rare victory and an even rarer away win.
Hurricanes 44 (Ash Dixon, Ben Franks, Julian Savea, Chris Smylie, James Broadhurst tries; Beauden Barrett 5 con, 3 pen) Highlanders 49 (Mose Tuiali'i, Tamati Ellison, Aaron Smith, Kade Poki, Hosea Gear, Elliott Dixon tries; Colin Slade 3 con, 3 pen, Hayden Parker 2 con) HT: 13-32