All Black decider as Green and Gold hopes are crushed
For Australian rugby fans their hopes of witnessing a first ever All-Aussie Super Rugby final was brutally halted by two teams from across the ditch. In what would have been a dream matchup for Australian rugby, especially in a World Cup year, watching two kiwi sides battle it out next Saturday night is definitely the worst case scenario for green and gold fans.
The Brumbies were trying to end their 11 year hoodoo without any success but were crushed by the best team of the regular season in a cold, chilly night at Wellington. The Hurricanes first half performance proved why they have been the best team all season. Not only did the Brumbies feel the full brunt of the explosiveness from the Hurricanes, they were also left chasing shadows as the men from Wellington dazzled their way around their lesser-fancied opponents, with tries coming from the Savea brothers Julian and Ardie, TJ Perenara and Matt Proctor.
The Brumbies were kept try-less and they struggled to compete with Wellington’s champagne rugby, even when the Canes struggled to convert scoring opportunities in the second. The 19-3 deficit at half time was always going to be a mountain to climb for the Brumbies, but Larkham will now need to go back to drawing board and plan for next season.
Departing Waratahs coach Michael Cheika knew it would be tough to overcome a strong and resilient Highlanders outfit as his plans to win back to back titles was completely obliterated during the second half of their semi final in Sydney. In what was the last home game for Wyclef Palu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sekope Kepu, Jacques Potgieter and Brendan McKibbin, the men from Otago made sure that the 32,632 strong crowd would never see those men garnish the sky blue not just at Allianz but never again.
Even though the Highlanders put in a dominative performance especially in the second half, calls from official Craig Joubert had the Tahs faithful crying foul. Two major calls on either side of the half heavily impacted the game. In the 33rd minute, Highlanders centre Richard Buckman scored a try after he jumped up after getting tackled by Wyclef Palu. Joubert ruled that Buckman was not completely tackled but it had Waratahs captain Dave Dennis seething as his side was pinned for the same thing a few minutes earlier. The major controversial decision occurred in the 58th minute as Waratahs forward Potgieter conceded a penalty try and received ten minutes in the bin after his swinging arm collided into Patrick Osborne’s head as he dived for the try line. The Tahs’ protests of claiming that he was trying to knock the ball out of Osborne’s hands as he fell into Potgieter’s arm went unheard.
Some might view that the Joubert cost the Waratahs a chance in claiming a spot in next weeks decider, but there was no doubt that the Highlanders won the game in every department against the Tahs, even dominating the fundamentals of rugby winning constant line-outs and just simply holding onto the ball. They even outscored their opponents with five tries to one, and scored an unanswered 20 points in the second half as they jumped into the ultimate decider. Brilliance by Aaron Smith, Waisake Nahalo, Lima Sopoaga and the underrated Highlanders forward pack helped steer the side into a clash with their Kiwi rivals the Hurricanes next Saturday in Wellington.
By the end of next weekend the history books at the SANZAR headquarters will definitely need to be rewritten as there will be a new name next to the title of Super Rugby Champions. Both the Hurricanes and the Highlanders have never experienced championship glory, both only making the final once each, the Hurricanes in 2006 and the latter in 1999, both losing to Kiwi rival and the most successful side of all, the Crusaders.
The Hurricanes will be favourites heading into the final, especially after they thumped their opponents in the back end of the regular season 56-20. They will also be buoyed by the spirit of Hurricanes and All Black great Jerry Collins following his and his partner’s tragic death in France. They will also be backed by a roaring home crowd in Wellington.
In what could be a big year for New Zealand rugby, a Kiwi champion on the domestic front and a possible back to back world champions would be the dream scenario for All Blacks fans, but for us rugby fans on this side of the Tasman, it will leave us seething.2015 Super Rugby Final Saturday, 4th July, 5:35pm (AEST) Hurricanes vs Highlanders at Westpac Stadium, Wellington.
2015 meetings: Rd 6: Highlanders def. by Hurricanes 13-20 Rd 17: Hurricanes def. Highlanders 56-20