The theme has been 21 years of some of the most exciting rugby you will ever see, leading to inevitable failure. The Hurricanes have produced more than their fair share of memorable rugby yet that are the only New Zealand side not to win a Super Rugby trophy
Last weekend’s length of the field chip-and-chase from Beauden Barrett which led to Halaholo’s try was yet another example of the positive side of supporting this team.
For the second successive year, Hurricanes fans find themselves in the unusual position of mentally preparing themselves for a final, and once more it’s being played at home. Once again we are asking ourselves, under our breath, if this is indeed Our Year.
It is at a time like this that we distract ourselves by rem remembering the good and bad times. The formation of the competition coincided with the arrival of Christian Cullen on the scene, and how he lit up The Grand Old Lady of Athletic Park.
By the time the new millennium came along the Hurricanes had a shiny new stadium, season ticket sales of around 25,000, an electrifying Back Three of Cullen, Lomu and Umaga and the “Expect the Unexpected” catchphrase.
In those years was the final of 2006 when they travelled to Christchurch for the final with confidence, only for the fog machine to get turned on an hour before kick-off. The Hurricanes were never going to beat the Crusaders in conditions like that.
The Social Experiment years were to follow when NZ Rugby though it was a good idea to put a Cantabrian in the charge of the Hurricanes.
Sometimes in sport you get a situation where the pieces fall into place. A very good backline was enhanced by the return of Nonu, and the emergence of Milner-Skudder. Later in the year, all the tries in the World Cup Final were scored by players from the backline.
And the forward pack, often the weakness, had a decent smattering of players with All Black experience and, in Thrush and Broadhurst, real steel in the middle row.
The Class of 2015 was the real deal. They lead pool play from start to finish, and topped the final table by 13 points. The team was back, and so were the fans.
After all this time, we finally got a final in Wellington, and it could have sold out many times over. But the Highlanders had lifted their game throughout the knock-out games, and held their nerve better in the final. The abiding memory from that night was the sight of their players still out on the field an hour after the final whistle in front of what appeared to be half of Dunedin who had travelled for the match.
That was it. The core of that side headed off after the World Cup. The Hurricanes had their chance to win the thing, and they fell at the final hurdle. 2016 was about rebuilding.
February seems like a long time ago. They were driven into the Canberra dirt by the Brumbies in the opening round of the competition in one of the more embarrassing performances in the side’s history. Phil Kearns, of all people, suggested the players were fat.
The poor start to the campaign meant that the Hurricanes, unlike last season, were never front runners. They kept on winning matches they should have while the Chiefs, Crusaders and Highlanders exchanged bragging rights.
Then came that extraordinary 18 hour period in the middle of July. The Hurricanes entered that round needing a bonus point win in Christchurch to have any hope of a home play-off match; which they did.
They then needed the Highlanders to beat the Chiefs but not by too many; which they did.
They then needed the Juaguares to beat the Lions, who had obligingly sent a second-string team to Argentina. And sure enough, they came from behind to do that too.
Suddenly, in a dreamy scenario the Hurricanes had moved from seventh on an admittedly skewed table to top after the 18th round of competition. Suddenly, it was 2015 again; it was finals rugby in the Capital. Maybe this was Our Year after all.
So while, in theory, this Hurricanes side seems demonstrably weaker than the class of 2015, and only five players who were in last year’s final started in the semi-final. But names on paper can be deceiving; those players wearing shirts number between 6 and 10 are in the form of their lives, and that is a pretty handy part of your side to be firing.
The real strength this year has been in defence, and the counter-attacking opportunities that come from that. The narrative for the final is the best attack against the best defence, and you can’t argue with that.
There are a couple of Fun Facts as a backdrop to this encounter.
The Lions have never beaten the Hurricanes in New Zealand.
Only one side (Crusaders 2000) has travelled to another country to win the Super Rugby final.
Any Hurricanes fan will tell you that neither of those statistics inspires confidence; if anything they make the trepidation more real.
Prediction: Hurricanes 25 Lions 24. After trailing 21-6 at halftime.
This article was first published on the Spinoff site