Jordie Barrett produced one of the great full-back shows to guide the Hurricanes to their first win of the season in Dunedin on Friday, scoring all of his team’s points in a 30-19 victory.
On a night when Aaron Smith won his 154th round for the Highlanders, passing Ben Smith, Barrett was simply stunning, running in three tries and twice punishing the Highlanders with long-range penalties with his right-footed cannon.
The Hurricanes were too brisk in the critical moments before and after half-time and the home side’s apparent lack of composure will give Tony Brown plenty to chew on ahead of the intimidating trip to face the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday next.
But the Hurricanes are finally up and running after a false start against the Chiefs last week, and what will appeal to coach Jason Holland is the amount of courage they showed when the game unfolded against them.
Coming out of the hangars with a 17-7 halftime lead, relying on offensive play and desperate defense, the Hurricanes struck a stab five minutes after a restart.
Highlanders No 10 Mitch Hunt dropped a single high kick from Barrett and from the next scrum the visitors propelled the field, eventually hitting a flying Barrett with an inside ball for the All Blacks triplet in tryouts.
His easy conversion pushed the score to 24-7 and although Hurricanes’ talismanic hooker Dane Coles was replaced soon after after a practical display, the game was well under control.
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Consolation attempts against Highlanders Connor Garden-Bachop and Thomas Umaga-Jensen reduced the final score to 30-19 as the home side fought, but it was too little too late.
For the Highlanders, Josh Ioane was dangerous with the ball in hand from the back, while the return of the Pari Pari Parkinson lock once again showed his potential for the All Blacks with a formidable return to rugby in front of a beloved crowd of 13,665.
But the Highlanders had been hampered by slow starts in their first three games, conceding four tries in the opening quarters and scoring none, and that dark trend continued on Friday.
After Ioane missed an early penalty, Barrett landed a 50-yard effort to open the scoring.
Jordie Barrett’s 55m Monster Kick
Barrett then scored on a nice backstroke after five minutes as the Highlanders expected the drive, the wide-back coming in on the outside of debutant Freedom Vahaakolo to score.
The Highlanders were denied a try when Shannon Frizell lost the ball over the line after heavy throws from forwards, with Parkinson in the lead.
With the pressure building up, the Hurricanes were forced to concede a wave of penalties that ultimately allowed the Hurricanes to propel Tyrel Lomax into the trash after 24 minutes.
Barrett went on to become a try saver with a brilliant tackle, just as it looked like Vahaakolo was on the verge of scoring, although the rookie may regret that he didn’t reach out to plant the ball.
It was only a temporary reprieve, as veteran lock Bryn Evans leapt up just as Lomax was about to return to the paddock.
However, the difference between the sides was shown in the five minutes before half-time.
After the Highlanders – who were quick to scratch Jona Nareki – spat the ball out trying to get it out of their own 22m, the Hurricanes showed the benefits of a more patient approach.
After holding the ball for several phases while looking for gaps, this Barrett man made a nice line over Salesi Rayasi’s shoulder and accepted an offload to get under the sticks.
He started the conversion and the Hurricanes took a 17-7 lead in the break.
If the city of Dunedin has not always provided Barrett with the best memories, this evening at the end of March will remain one of his best hours.
The selection battle for the All Blacks No 15 jersey is starting to look very crowded this year.
Hurricanes 30 (Jordie Barrett 3 tries, Barrett 3 against, 3 pens) Highlanders 19 (Bryn Evans, Connor Garden-Bachop, Thomas Umaga-Jensen tries, Josh Ioane 2 vs.): HT: 17-7
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