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Salesi Rayasi hat-trick sees Hurricanes past Highlanders

By Ned Lester
Salesi Rayasi of the Hurricanes celebrates with Billy Proctor after scoring a try. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The Hurricanes hosted the Highlanders in round 15 with a chance to finish atop the Super Rugby Pacific table and claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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While the Highlanders came out of the gates firing, Jordie Barrett rallied his troops with an early speech and the Hurricanes never looked back, running out to a 41-14 win.

The Wellington wind was just as excited about the heritage jerseys on display as the rest of us, and it was clear from the outset it would play a heavy role in the contest.

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The lads have plenty of big club games to react to this week after finals in Europe and Japan as well as some huge results in Super Rugby Pacific. We start by dissecting the games in Christchurch and Hamilton before casting an eye over the Champions Cup final.

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The lads have plenty of big club games to react to this week after finals in Europe and Japan as well as some huge results in Super Rugby Pacific. We start by dissecting the games in Christchurch and Hamilton before casting an eye over the Champions Cup final.

Ajay Faleafaga won the opening kicking duel by landing a 50-22 and it took just two phases for the Highlanders to find a seam in the Hurricanes’ defensive line, with an offload from Billy Harmon setting up Matt Whaanga to power over the line, dragging Jordie Barrett over with him.

The Hurricanes were eager to respond and Barrett’s improved skillset attacking an aggressive defensive line was on full display as he whipped a long pass to find Asafo Aumua on the wing. The hooker showed no signs of hesitancy despite returning from injury and shrugged off his first defender before finding milestone man Salesi Rayasi who scored the try.

A Hurricanes lineout just inside the Highlanders’ half saw the home team take play into centrefield with their first phase, only to then unleash an attacking play where they switched the direction of play twice to open up a small gap next to the last ruck which was hit at pace by Rayasi. The winger offloaded to Du’Plessis Kirifi who made another 20 meters.

After another bruising carry from Aumua in the wide channel, it was Kirifi who finished the effort by diving under three defenders to reach the chalk.

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The Wellington side were playing with energy and opportunism. A Kirifi turnover at the breakdown was followed by a quick tap and a chip-and-chase by Jordie Barrett resulting in a rushed highlanders clearance.

The ‘Canes worked a simple one-two off the front of the lineout between Aumua and TJ Perenara who scored in the corner to extend his record as Super Rugby’s highest all-time try-scorer.

Attack

221
Passes
108
160
Ball Carries
95
428m
Post Contact Metres
182m
10
Line Breaks
5

It was a tough ask to stop the steamtrain that is the Hurricanes forward pack during phase play and the Highlanders weren’t faring well early. Big meters were made and the Hurricane earned another lineout just shy of the Highlanders line. From there, a maul sucked in defenders before the ball was fired out to the backs and it was Rayasi again who finished the effort.

The Highlanders got an opportunity to attack via a lineout drive of their own thanks to some Hurricanes ill-discipline and went to work. The effort was broken up but a couple of phases later lock Fabian Holland picked the ball up himself and got under the defence to score.

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The good news would be short-lived for Highlanders fans however as it took just minutes for the Hurricanes to get back over the line through Kirifi, who powered through two front rowers to score before a TMO intervention shortly after led to a yellow card to Connor Garden-Bachop.

The challenging conditions made conversions a steep challenge but Sam Gilbert nailed both of his for the Highlanders while Brett Cameron made just two of his five attempts. Halftime score: 29-14.

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The Highlanders made four changes to their tight five at halftime and Asafo Aumua was replaced for the Hurricanes.

After a stalemate period to open the second half, the Hurricanes found their rhythm on a counter-attack and yet again it was Rayasi who beat the final defender to collect his hat-trick. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, the score came with more bad news as Sam Gilbert was sent from the field with a yellow card.

The bad news for Hurricanes – and potentially All Blacks– fans is that both TJ Perenara and Ruben Love limped to the sideline in the opening hour. Du’Plessis Kirifi didn’t return after leaving for an HIA.

Still, up a man, Brayden Iose powered off the back of a scrum to score the Hurricanes’ seventh try of the night.

In his first start for the Highlanders, young fullback Finn Hurley was making his mark on the contest on both sides of the ball and saved another Hurricanes try by tackling Riley Higgins out as the replacement midfielder looked to score in the corner.

Defence dominated the final quarter of the contest as the rapid pace of the game caught up with the players. Final score: 41-14.

 

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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