Halberg top moments: Highlanders forge belief from hope

By Michael Brown

Highlanders co-captains Ben Smith and Nasi Manu hoist the Super Rugby trophy.
Highlanders co-captains Ben Smith and Nasi Manu hoist the Super Rugby trophy.

It's part of the DNA of any Otago rugby or Highlanders fan to lack confidence heading into a big match.

After all, we had been disappointed many times before -- often because of a referee (I'm talking about you, Colin Hawke, and, no, I can't let it go).

So when the Highlanders travelled to Wellington for last year's Super Rugby final, it was sensible to be filled with hope rather than expectation.

Belief didn't arrive until about three minutes from time when Marty Banks potted a dropped goal -- he sensationally ran the ball when in position on two previous occasions.

Those madcap moments before the decisive dropped-goal tended to sum up the game. It was open, entertaining and exciting.

The Hurricanes didn't do a lot wrong in the final at the Cake Tin (Julian Savea committed the biggest sin when he dropped the ball with the line open).

But the Highlanders were that little bit more adventurous, ruthless on attack, rugged on defence and strong in the set-piece and deserved their 21-14 win.

All of the Highlanders' All Blacks stood out as you'd expect them to - Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo, Lima Sopoaga - but it was also unheralded ones like Elliot Dixon (who showed great strength to score a first-half try), Nasi Manu, Mark Reddish, Banks and Richard Buckman who helped make the difference.

It was also a triumph for coach Jamie Joseph, whose position had been questioned not too long before after a period of underachievement.

There was the obligatory street parade in Dunedin and the 28kg Super Rugby trophy went on a tour of the Highlanders' region, taking in the likes of Gore, Te Anau and Cromwell.

I'm not that confident the Highlanders can do it again this season, but at least we'll always have a reminder of that first Super Rugby title in 20 years - the franchise get to keep the trophy, given a new one will be played for in an expanded Super Rugby competition.

Kiwi sports fans can vote for their choice by text message (once per day) or online at www.sportingmoment.co.nz.

How to vote:


Voting is now open for the Radio Sport Sporting Moment award. You can vote once a day from now until 9.00pm on Thursday 18 February 2016.

1. Online
Vote at www.sportingmoment.co.nz

2. TXT
Text your Radio Sport Sporting Moment's unique code to 818:
1. Txt Sm1 to 818 to vote for SKYCITY Breakers
2. Txt Sm2 to 818 to vote for Grant Elliott
3. Txt Sm3 to 818 to vote for Kiwis
4. Txt Sm4 to 818 to vote for The Highlanders
5. Txt Sm5 to 818 to vote for Vodafone Warriors
6. Txt Sm6 to 818 to vote for Richie McCaw
7. Txt Sm7 to 818 to vote for Lydia Ko
8. Txt Sm8 to 818 to vote for All Blacks
9. Txt Sm9 to 818 to vote for Ross Taylor
10. Txt Sm10 to 818 to vote for Football Ferns
Standard text fees apply on all text votes.

Everyone who votes in the Radio Sport Sporting Moment Award before midnight on the 9 February, 2016 goes in the draw to win a trip for two including flights and accommodation to the 53rd Halberg Awards at Vector Arena, Auckland on Thursday 18 February 2016. Visit www.sportingmoment.co.nz to read the competition terms & conditions.

- NZ Herald

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