Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

First Take: Highlanders back from depths of 2013

Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders kicks for touch during the Highlander's match against the Sharks in Durban. Photo / Getty Images
Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders kicks for touch during the Highlander's match against the Sharks in Durban. Photo / Getty Images

The Highlanders are officially a rugby miracle after upsetting the pacesetting Sharks in Durban.

They are also an example of the cliché that a champion team can beat a team of champions.

The Highlanders are on the Super 15 leaderboard, their 2013 horror year well behind them.

They were helped by a diabolical performance from the Sharks who played more like wooden spoon contenders than title aspirants.

The Highlanders know what bad is all about. They hit such depths in 2013 that coach Jamie Joseph's once promising career looked to be on fast skids.

The Highlanders had a team of supposed champions in those grim days. And many of them headed for the hills at the end of the season.

It might pay to check back on that exodus: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison, Colin Slade.

All gone.

The players who came in were genuine no-names compared to that lot. Added to that, Buxton Popoali'i and Brad Thorn have since exited on health grounds.

Just as last year's team were considered title material, the current squad were rated as candidates to come last.

Even now, it's hard to fathom how they are doing quite so well, although centre Malaki Fekitoa - who arrived from the Blues - must rate as the recruit of the season and has injected terrific attacking verve.

After the Durban victory, co-captain Nasi Manu reckoned the players worked hard for each other, another classic cliché. But in this case, it's the best explanation for an amazing turnaround.

- NZ Herald

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