“I met Ma’a at The Heritage in Auckland when I was up there with the New Zealand [Under]-20s and we still haven’t had a conversation about our expectations of each other”.
As the Super Rugby competition is changing format next year the teams will be playing for a new trophy; as the last winners of the current competition the Highlanders will keep the trophy.
Spurred by a strong defence, an astute tactical game based on kicking for territory and slowing down the quick ball the Hurricanes thrive on, the Highlanders stunned the favourites to claim their first title.
The Highlanders made their only previous final appearance in 1999, the Hurricanes in 2006, and both were thwarted in their title ambitions by seven-time champions the Crusaders.
He said the leadership of co-captains Manu and fullback Ben Smith was inspirational over the second half of a season they spent mostly on the road.
Barrett, who had missed three shots at the goal in the first half as the home team failed to build any scoreboard pressure, slotted three penalties in the second to drag his side back into the game, though the Highlanders shut the game down in the last eight minutes to hold on for the victory.
Two Barrett penalties reduced the margin to four points.
Assisted by Dixon, Naholo backed-up his selection by the All Blacks with tries in each of the Highlanders playoff wins this season, killing off the Hurricanes in the final soon after the break.
They were given little chance of upsetting the Hurricanes in Saturday’s final: everything seemed to have aligned in the Hurricanes’ favor. From an attacking scrum, backrower Victor Vito, winger Julian Savea and flanker Brad Shields carried the ball before the play was switched to the short side where Nonu scored close to the corner flag. Step forward blindside Elliot Dixon (whose try I will argue endlessly was legitimate), tight-head Josh Hohneck and hooker Liam Coltman, who have churned through a staggering amount of good work at the pointy end of the season.
After latching onto a attractive pass from halfback Aaron Smith, Dixon powered to the line with several Canes defenders hanging off him.
That left the Hurricanes trailing 5-6 before the most-contentious moment of the game a minute before halftime.
From the opening three minutes of helter-skelter rugby, which ended with a penalty to Lima Sopoaga to open the scoring for the Highlanders, to a final drop goal by Marty Banks, the game was played at a relentless pace.
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