The Hurricanes secured a fifth home victory when they outclassed the Highlanders 27-20 in Wellington on Friday.
In similar fashion to the last sixteen contests, between these two sides, all were decided within seven points or less. Ardie Savea was the home side's hero as he secured the matchwinning try after showing great strength in rugging off two defenders in the 80th minute.
Despite the scoreline not reflecting a big score, it was a fast paced affair which delivered several big hits and some skillful inter-passing from both sides, in a replay of last year's final which at the same venue.
The 'Canes outscored the defending champions by three tries to two. Tries for the home side came via Brad Shields and a brace from Savea and the Highlanders' five-pointers were scored by Lima Sopoaga and Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Beuden Barrett was successful with three conversions and two penalties while Sopoaga's personal tally of eleven points included two conversions and a penalty.
The Hurricanes broke the defensive line with ease which saw them beat 28 defenders, 21 more than the visitors' seven. This compounded by the poor defensive effort from the champions – which saw them missing 28 tackles – allowed the 'Canes to gain 563 valuable metres.
Following a linebreak from Cory Jane, Ardie Savea scooped up the ball to run in for his and team's first try of the match. Barrett added the extras and handed the home side an early 7-0 lead.
Barrett showed his class at fly-half, his visionary skills allowed him to free up the dangerous Hurricanes back-line which resulted in them advancing to within metres following a few attacking phases deep inside their opponents' 22. Brad Shields then powered over from close range for the Wellington outfit's second converted try.
Quick recycled ball allowed the Highlanders' powerful runners, like All Black midfielder Malakai Fekitoa and powerhouse wing Waisake Naholo, to catch the 'Canes defence off-guard which resulted in Sopoaga sliding over for the visitors' first score. The pivot converted his own try and this reduced the lead to 14-7 which looked set to be the half-time score.
But it was his opposite number that had the final say in the opening 40 – Barrett slotted a penalty on the stroke of half-time as the players headed into the tunnel with the home side comfortably in the lead.
The visitors made their intentions clear after the break as Sopoaga continued to command matters brilliantly, on attack. The All Black fly-half's invaluable tactical kicking ability and excellent vision, along with the champions' clinical breakdown discipline, saw prop Daniel Lienert-Brown muscling over for the Highlanders first try, which Sopoaga converted.
The Highlanders levelled the scores in the 52nd minute after the home side were penalised at the ruck – Sopoaga converting from close range to draw his side level at 17-17.
Highlanders replacement fly-half Marty Banks and Barrett then traded penalties which took the score to 20-20 as the final five minutes approached.
With the home side on the attack, close to the Highlanders' try-line, Savea powered over for his second try and the winning points for the home side and Barrett's conversion allowed the Hurricanes to move to within two points of the New Zealand Conference table leaders, the Chiefs, who take on the Waratahs later on Friday.
Tries: A Savea 2, Shields
Cons: Barrett 3
Pens: Barrett 2
Tries: Sopoaga, Lienert-Brown
Cons: Sopoaga 2
Pens: Sopoaga, Banks
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, Jamison 21 Gibson-Park, 22 Ngani Laumape, 23 Jason Woodward
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Teihorangi Walden
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Jamie Nutbrown
TMO: Aaron Peterson