DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) — The Wellington-based Hurricanes sustained another setback to their Super Rugby title hopes when they were beaten 30-14 on Friday by the Dunedin-based Hurricanes, their second consecutive loss to a New Zealand conference rival.
The Hurricanes won 10 games in a row to move into championship contention, but losses in their last two matches to the Highlanders and Christchurch-based Crusaders leave them in second place in the New Zealand conference.
They started Friday's match five points behind the first-placed Crusaders and could slip as many as 10 points behind if the Crusaders beat the Hamilton-based Chiefs on Saturday.
The Hurricanes never looked comfortable against a tough, abrasive Highlanders team which gained a narrow lead with tries on either side of halftime.
A try midway through the second half allowed the Hurricanes to reclaim the lead at 14-13, but the Highlanders finished more strongly with tries to Tyrel Lomax and Waisake Naholo.
"I just think that we felt (at halftime) that we needed to play a bit more footy and when we got down there and played our territory game we managed to get chances," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. "We came out at halftime with a bit more energy."
The Hurricanes led 7-3 in a game of tight defense with a try to center Jordie Barrett in the 23rd minute. But the Highlanders were able to hold the ball through almost five minutes of first-half injury time to score a try to winger Tevita Li which gave them an 8-7 lead at the break.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored three minutes into the second half and the Highlanders led 13-7. The Hurricanes rallied with a try to prop Jeff To'omaga Allen to reclaim the lead after 49 minutes.
Replacement Lomax, son of former New Zealand rugby league star Jonny Lomax, scored his first Super Rugby try to force the last of three lead changes and to give the Highlanders a 20-14 lead in the 60th minute. Naholo sealed the win with his try eight minutes later.
"I think it was the same it's been for the last few weeks, we've been our own worst enemy," said Hurricanes captain Brad Shields, who played his 100th Super Rugby game.
Shields now joins England for its June test series against South Africa as Super Rugby breaks for a month for mid-year internationals.