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Hurricanes rally late to down Highlanders

THE Wellington Hurricanes scored two tries in the last five minutes for a 22-17 win over the consistently unlucky Otago Highlanders in a Super 14 rugby match yesterday.

In a game which fluctuated with sudden scoring bursts from each team, Wellington took a 10-0 lead with a penalty and converted try around halftime.

Otago usurped that lead by scoring 17 points in seven minutes in the second spell before Wellington recovered with two tries and 12 late points to seal its first win of the season.

The Highlanders were left with their second narrow loss of the season after yielding their first-round match to the ACT Brumbies, 33-31, with a last-minute dropped goal.

Wet and slippery conditions in Wellington made handling difficult and the game progressed aimlessly for long periods between the flurries of scoring.

Both teams were without their regular captains - the Hurricanes were missing All Blacks No. 8 Rodney So'oialo, who was serving a one-match suspension, while the Highlanders did not have All Black Jimmy Cowan nor vice-captain Jamie McIntosh, both injured.

It was the impact off the bench of All Blacks centers Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith which tipped the game the Hurricanes way. Nonu made the crucial break which led to the Hurricanes first try, to winger David Smith, and Conrad Smith scored the last try, three minutes from fulltime, to clinch the game.

"We battled a wee bit there tonight," Hurricanes stand-in captain Tamati Ellison said. "It was pretty hard to play footy as you saw there with the amount of dropped ball on both sides."

The first 38 minutes of the match were scoreless but the Hurricanes broke the deadlock with a penalty which provided the only points of the first half.

David Smith's try in the 44th minute, converted by Daniel Kirkpatrick, gave Wellington 10 points while Otago was reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of All Blacks flanker Adam Thompson.

Otago flyhalf Daniel Bowden engineered his team's comeback, scoring and converting his own try, creating and converting another to No.8 Steven Setephano and then adding a penalty in quick succession.

The Hurricanes held the ball through 16 phases to create a try for All Blacks lock Jason Eaton, which tied the scores, 17-17, after 75 minutes. Conrad Smith scored off a spilled pass to seal the win two minutes later.

In Sydney, flyhalf Kurtley Beale set up New South Wales' only try and then kicked the Waratahs into the lead for an 11-7 win over the Waikato Chiefs.

In Perth, Wallabies flyhalf Matt Giteau set up Western Force's only try and kicked the rest of his team's points in a 16-10 win over South Africa's Cheetahs.


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