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HURRICANES edge Highlanders in heartland

HAWKE'S BAY hosted an epic encounter Saturday night as the Hurricanes earned a crucial win 35-33 by overcoming a stirring Highlanders challenge in a high-octane game that sent the heartland Napier masses wild with appreciation.

Inspired by the 'bovver-boy' aggression and 'wonder-boy' skills of tyro All Black scrumhalf Byron Kelleher the southern side stormed onto attack and from the opening salvo began to establish an early domination that led to the star No 9 dotting down for the opening try in the ninth minute.

The early domination based on the driving play of hard-man Anton Oliver, behemoth Carl Hayman and his equally imposing namesake Carl Hoeft saw the Hurricanes literally knocked out of the game and All Black midfielder Pita Alatini demonstrated his class when he latched onto a pass to score following a sparking break by Aisea Tuilevu.

Facing a 12-0 defecit despite a strong wind at their backs the Hurricanes were facing a dour struggle to regain parity against a rampant Otago XV yet the talent-laden home team soon stepped up a gear and the seemingly dormant world class talents outwide were set to erupt.

The increasingly influential David Holwel signalled the Hurricanes comeback with a penalty that his opposite Tony Brown countered to take the score to 15-3.

A second Holwel three pointer was earned in the 27th minute by a Hurricanes team that was starting to fire and soon the crowd was on their feet exulting the exploits of Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Filo Tiatia, Tana Umaga and the truly exciting breakaway Rodney So'ioalo.

Another pair of penalties to Holwel and one to Brown took the score to 18-12 and then finally succumbing to a series of Hurricanes attacks the Highlander defence was breached when on the roll from a Cullen surge the ball went to Paul Steinmetz who darted forward before flicking a low ball to Holwel who scooped it up and dived over to see his team to a 19-18 halftime lead.

Hurricanes momentum continued in the second half when Cullen charged onto a pass and legs pumping with his forwards driving he stampeded over the tryline for a magnificent score that revealed his phenomenal power and desire to win.

Holwel's astounding goalkicking form contined with the conversion and another couple of penalties took the score to 32-21 and with the Hurricanes pack inspired by awesome performances from Paul Tito and Dion Waller it appeared the Highlanders, dazed by two sin-binnings and the loss to injury of Oliver, were down and out.

Yet despite despite conceding one more penalty to Holwel ( who took his personal tally to a NZ record 30 points) the Highlanders retained their pride and Super 12 campaign hopes by mounting a heroic comeback to earn two tries in the last five minutes to take a pair of valuable bonus points despite suffering a closely fought 35-33 defeat.

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