The Highlanders got their Super Rugby campaign back on track after claiming a hard-fought 17-16 win over the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday.
Although the tournament is still in its early stages, both teams were under pressure as they headed in to this match after suffering defeats last weekend.
As is customary between these sides this was a fast-paced affair with plenty of drama. The Highlanders dominated the early exchanges and looked on course for victory but the Hurricanes showed great tenacity to launch a stunning fightback in the second half.
The visitors, who conceded 50 points in their opener to the Brumbies last weekend, were far more competitive in this encounter and held the lead late into the game, until the Highlanders secured victory via a Hayden Parker penalty in the 76th minute.
The Hurricanes opened the scoring early – Beauden Barrett slotting a penalty after Aaron Smith was penalised for holding onto the ball on the ground.
The home side didn't wait long to strike back though. Malakai Fekitoa showing great strength as he shrugged off two tacklers before diving over after Lima Sopoaga did well to draw in a couple of defenders before offloading to his on-rushing team-mate.
Sopoaga missed the conversion but soon added a penalty which gave the hosts an 8-3 lead. The two pivots then traded penalties which meant the Highlanders led 11-6 at half-time.
The Hurricanes stepped up a gear after the break but it was the Highlanders who scored the first points after the break – Sopoaga on target from the kicking tee again which meant they held a 14-6 lead by the 50th minute.
The visitors soon narrowed the gap when their captain TJ Perenara dived over after spotting a gap close to the Highlanders tryline.
Barrett, starting to take control of the contest from fly-half, added the extras and five minutes later he slotted another penalty which have his side a 16-14 lead on the hour-mark.
Both sides continued to attack and the home side will feel aggrieved that a late effort from Fekitoa – who was superb throughout – was disallowed by the TMO.
The All Blacks centre smashed his way throught the Hurricanes defence and appeared to ground the ball at the bottom of the post, but the TMO ruled that it was inconclusive whether he had dotted down or not.
A possible score for Liam Squire was then ruled out for a forward pass but with time running out the Highlanders upped the ante and they were eventually rewarded.
Parker slotted his penalty five minutes from the end after the visitors strayed offside on defence.
The final minutes were frantic as the Hurricanes tried to strike back, but the Highlanders did well to keep them at bay with a solid defensive effort to get that first win of the year.
Pens: Sopoaga 3, Parker
Pens: Barrett 3
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie (cc), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Jason Woodward, 23 Willis Halaholo
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Chris Wratt