The Wellington Hurricanes had everything going for them – a consistent lead at the top of the table; an in form team that was playing good rugby week in and week out; the hunger necessary to succeed against any team that took them on. They had two of the best All Blacks of recent times in Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu. With all this and a parochial home crowd to roar them on, one would have thought the 2015 Super 15 Rugby title was theirs for the taking.
But nobody told the Otago Highlanders, the plucky outfit from southern New Zealand, whose catchment population is the smallest of any Super 15 franchise. Comprising Otago and Southland, which is a geographically large area, but holding only about 270,000 people, it is small compared to Auckland. No one told their coach Jamie Joseph or Highlanders legend Tony Brown. When Otago were up the Highlander supporters in their thousands roared the length and breadth of New Zealand. And as the clock wound down to 80:00 minutes, after years in the wilderness and some very hard soul searching, the two southern provinces of New Zealand were finally able to believe that this would be their hour.
And win Otago did. There is no doubt that a lot of Wellingtonians will be smarting over this loss, but as Conrad said himself to a journalist after the match, there is no point in getting too hung up over the loss of a single rugby match. And although you will be missing the services of Conrad and Ma’a Nonu, whose S15 careers ended on Saturday, there is always next year.
But this is Otago’s moment. This is where the blue and golds can be piped into the Octagon by bagpipers wearing their kilts on a true Dunedin day in front of thousands of fans from across Otago and Southland. Enjoy your victory parade and the golden hue on a day of hopefully clear blue skies.