February 18 - 2011 Highlanders surprise at the Cake Tin

Scoring the only try of the match and showing greater urgency the injury hit Highlanders started their 2011 campaign with an away win at Westpac Stadium against the more fancied Hurricanes. They were helped when All Black Ma’a Nonu was sent off with half an hour to play for his second yellow card offence.

“More contrasting starts to the Super Rugby season could not have been found than those that came to the respective coaches of the Hurricanes and Highlanders. This ugly win was as golden as it was unexpected for Jamie Joseph’s unfancied and injury-ravaged side from the south.

For Mark Hammett’s Hurricanes it was the opposite of everything he had hoped for in his first match at the helm. Ill-discipline, highlighted by the second half sending off of Ma’a Nonu for a shoulder charge on Jimmy Cowan, was a hallmark of the home side’s efforts. Nonu had earlier earned a yellow card after the Hurricanes ignored the referee’s warnings about constant infringements at the ruck.

Neither side really adjusted well to referee Stuart Dickinson’s strict policing at the tackle, but the Hurricanes were always going to pay a heavier price for the stop start nature of the match, especially after losing Nonu with half an hour to play.

Poor handling, a shaky set-piece and a game plan that ignored the side’s greatest strengths in the backs also contributed to their frustrating night.

Adam Thomson pushed the limits at the ruck and tackle and proved a dominating force in this match, disrupting the Hurricanes with either his strong tackles or accurate cleanouts.

The Highlanders collectively had a greater urgency at the breakdown with lock Jarrad Hoeata providing plenty of aggression. Young first five Lima Sopoaga grabbed the only try of the match and despite some average goalkicking — he missed four shots — looks a player of great potential. Inside him Cowan controlled play well with sound option-taking.

MVP: Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 3, Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders) 2, Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) 1.”

From “Rugby News”, Issue 1 2011 p. 24.

Adam Thomson was a dominant force