Highlanders win right up there

Being an Otago and Highlanders supporter I’ve experienced quite a bit of hanging in there and more than a few major disappointnents.

So that makes good wins even better.

And the Highlanders winning the Super 15 final on Saturday is one of the best wins I’ve experienced, if not the best. This takes into account many All Black wins.

The All Black win in the World Cup final in 2011 was more relief than elation. The win in the nineties clinching the first series win in South Africa was pretty good. And there have been some other great wins at National level too.

But the closer to home team is special. Especially when they have no often been a dominant team. Big wins are to be savoured. And Saturday’s win was a very big win.

The Otago team through the nineties was exciting and had some very good wins, especially those I watched live at Carisbrook.

Winning the Ranfurly Shield in 2013 was special, but I don’t remember if i even watched that game. But it was a one off win and the loss soon afterwards made the Shield experience short lived.

However this Highlanders’ win means more. It is an international competition with the best players and teams of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa involved. The Super 15 competition is regarded by some as the toughest in the world.

The win on Saturday night was fantastic in itself, but more so because it followed two excellent games against the previous two champions, the Chiefs and the Waratahs, and it was the peak of a successful season.

The start of the season didn’t give any indication of what might play out. The Highlanders began in February with a bye, and then they lost at home to the Crusaders.

They then beat the Queensland Reds, followed by the first sign of real promise, a win against the 2013 champions the highly rated Chiefs.

Even then hopes weren’t highly raised. Aspects of the Highlanders’ play looked same old ominous, especially a struggling scrum.

But as the season ground on hopes were cautiously raised. They were at least competitive, most of the time. They were often playing well, and at times looked exciting.

Into the last third of the season there was reasonable hope the Highlanders might at least make the play offs, which would have made the season a success.

But towards the end of the rounds the smart heads and the big hearts of the players and coaches became more apparent. This team wasn’t just sort of competitive, it could foot it with the best.

Getting the second most points on the table was a significant achievement.

Otago and Highlander supporters had had many major disappointments so expectations are usually lower than hopes in big games. Some degree of trepidation is never absent.

Then the play off game against the Chiefs. A very satisfying win on merit.

The following week was better when the Highlanders comprehensively out thought and out fought last year’s champion the Waratahs, on their home turf in Sydney.

The pinnacle now looked possible with the final starting at 0-0, although the Hurricanes were clear and deserved favourites.

A plus was the Highlanders had little to lose apart from a game, as coming second would have been a great achievement. A close loss after a brave attempt would have been fairly happily accepted in the south.

But this Highlanders team was not playing for second. They were determined to prove to them selves, to their supporters and to the rugby world that they the tricks and the ticker to top the Super fifteen competition.

And so they did. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t over until the final whistle – with the way the Hurricanes play the hard fought and desperately retained lead always looked at risk.

The Highlanders looked wobbly mid way through the second half. It looked like season fatigue could be catching up on them.

But they had the heart and the reserves of energy to put in one last massive effort, and the finished the stronger of the two teams.

So they were very well deserved winners.

And for me this is right up there, it’s one of the most satisfying wins I have experienced.

Thanks to all of those involved in the Highlanders. Thanks very much. This is a season and a finals win to remember.

Highlanders!

The Hurricanes had a great Super 15 season, but they weren’t quite great enough when it really mattered, in the final, and that matters.

The Highlanders had a very good season and played a great final finishing off the best, beating the two most recent champions through the play offs and beating the best overall team in the final.  so they are worthy champions.

HighlandersChampions

Congratulations to a job well done. A warm glow of pride spread over the south last night, and it will remain in place today when the team returns to Dunedin.

The Hurricanes tried repeating their usual and it didn’t quite work for them in a few ways. They missed their first three kicks at goal, they didn’t succeed with the devastating breaks they are renowned and feared for, and they couldn’t quite finish off a frenetic game.

The Highlanders weren’t perfect either, especially during a wobbly period mid second half when the Hurricanes closed the gap to four points.

But they dug in and held on, finishing strongly enough to deny the Hurricanes.

There was an air of ‘we deserve this’ about the Hurricanes – they deserved to win because they had been clearly the top team so far, they deserved to win because of Jerry Collins, they deserved to win because it was the final match for stalwarts like Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.

But thinking you might deserve something is not always enough.

The Highlanders, a team of mostly unknowns, played like a team, a team determined to do whatever they could to win.

They had built up some very good skills and a wide range of tactics through the season.

And when it mattered they had the guts, the fitness, the nous and the determination to get over the final line first.

So they are deserving winners.

HighlandersCelebrate

And here in the south we will celebrate probably the best and most satisfying southern team win I’ve experienced for quite some time. We’ve got a year to feel like champions.

Planet Rugby has the details: Highlanders stun ‘Canes in thriller

A report with some video: Highlanders upset Hurricanes to claim first Super Rugby title in Wellington
(I’m sure some Hurricanes players and supporters are upset but the result was hardly a shock if you had seen what the Highlanders had proven capable of).

The Highlanders had knocked off the Chiefs in Dunedin, then bamboozled the Waratahs in Sydney before jetting into Wellington, but few thought they could beat the regular season champions on their home patch. However, within the Highlanders’ camp there was no doubt according to co-captain Ben Smith.

“We knew from the start we had something special and along the way other people started to believe too. We talk about brotherhood and being good mates and you’ve seen that over the past few weeks,” he said.

And they showed that in the final last night.

Hurricanes or Highlanders?

Most of the talk and speculation is over. Tonight the Super 15 will be decided on the field at the Cake Tin.

The Hurricanes are logical favourites.

The Highlanders will probably be sentimental favourites outside of the Wellington region.

Of course I’m hoping for a Highlanders win but don’t have any expectations other than for an intriguing contest.

The score will start at 0-0 at 7.35 pm. Then it’s up to the two teams on the night.

Hurricanes and Highlanders

The Hurricanes were clear leaders on the Super 15 table, and they were clear winners in their semi-final against the Brumbies last night winning 29-9. Their forwards are playing very well and their backs often look dangerous. Despite missing out through mistakes a number of times they scored often enough to shut the Brumbies out.

So the Hurricanes will deservedly host the final in Wellington next week.

The Highlanders were second on points on the table, just one bonus point ahead of the Waratahs. They went to Sydney to play an away semifinal against the defending champions due to the country ranking system.

Most of the statistics were against the Highlanders. They have rarely won in Sydney and haven’t made the final since 1999 (when they lost to the Crusaders).

But last night the Highlanders out fought and out thought the Waratahs, winning 35-17.

As a Highlander fan it would have been sort of ok for the Hurricanes to have lost so we would host the final in Dunedin but the Hurricanes earned the home game.

So next week it will be the Hurricanes versus the Highlanders in Wellington, and all New Zealand final. They can both be high tempo exciting attacking teams but finals can be different.

It will be interesting to see how it goes. May the best team win, and hopefully it will be the Highlanders!

Onslaught of sport

The sporting year was already cranking up. We’ve just had League Nines and Rugby Sevens weekends. The Breakers and the Phoenix have resumed their schedules. And many eyes are on Lydia Ko’s internationmal golfing progress.

But this weekend sport has raised a few notches.

The Super 15 kicked off for the year last night in Christchurch, with the Crsuaders being shocked by some Aussie team (the Melbourne Rebels deservedly won). The Brimbies hammered the Reds in Aus. And right now the Hurricanes are playing in South Africa. The beginning of six or seven games a weekend.

And today the Cricket World Cup starts in Christchurch, after an already busy cricket lead up schedule. Siz weeks of internatikonal cricket to come.

Cricket World Cup Official Website

Some will love this onslaught of sport. I’m certainly interested in keeping an eye on things.

Others won’t be so keen as Stuff depicts in Six weeks as a cricket widow – where do they find people to put themselves forward for stories like this? But they seem to have blooped.

LOSING BATTLE: Heather Casterline will cut a lovely figure for the next month and a half…

I don’t think Collette Devlin meant ‘lovely’, she seems to have dropped the ball there, as did her editors.

I hope the Black Caps are more accurate today.