by Paul Montague
The Speights will be flowing like a flood for a good week or more from Mossburn to Tuatapere to Lumsden to Mosgiel and to the Octagon but ringing around Manners Street, Courtenay Place and up to Porirua and out to the Kapiti Coast and above and beyond will be the strains of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.
It’s hard to remember a more helter-skelter, fumbly, high-octane Rugby final of recent vintage in Union or League and when all said and done there is little doubt in this mind that the Highlanders are very worthy champions. Their steering column of Manu, Smith and Sopoaga out-manoeuvred their opposites Vito, Perenara and Barrett and as a result the Highlanders could control the tempo of the match and were able to force the Hurricanes to mount unstructured, quite desperate-looking attacks, this even allowing for the fact it was they who had more clean possession.
You could venture that the Hurricanes botched enough clear chances on Saturday night to put away three games but it was the relentless energy and pursuit of the Highlanders defenders that caused those mistakes. Even when Julian Savea murdered that great chance to slide in at the left corner after about an hour, it seemed as though he had a wary eye out for the cover flying at him in the form of Waisake Naholo. If there was ever a moment that said it just wasn’t meant to be this year for the ‘Canes, that was it. When, oh when will the agony end for Devlin, Campbell and the yellow and black multitudes?
TJ Perenara at halfback was inspirational for the Hurricanes with his backing-up, exquisite ball skills and covering tackling and would make a fantastic Rugby League recruit if anyone were ever interested. And while Elliot Dixon was a deserving recipient of the Player of the Match and scored a hell of a good try borne from sheer, bloody-minded determination, about the most crucial individual for me was Lima Sopoaga. He looked far more at home in the heat of the occasion than his opposite Beauden Barrett. There haven’t been many better Directors since Spielberg and if that man isn’t around to push Carter and Barrett hard for that coveted All Blacks 10 jersey, then Colin Meads eats candy floss and drinks Sprite. And Aaron Smith was magical for the umpteenth time this season, probably even better than Sopoaga. The way he goes about his business puts one in mind of the way England’s Matt Dawson played, but at twice the speed and intensity.
And how about Marty Banks? Has there ever been a better cameo in a final? If he hadn’t already, Banks will surely now rival The Barracuda Buckman as the 2015 Highlanders cult hero. During the last stanzas the Tasman player was cooler than an iceblock at the school fair in the summertime.
A great redemption too for Chris Boyd; so close to absolutely complete. Remember when he was being pulled apart by all and sundry for the dismal 2014 NPC season of the Wellington Lions? What a contrast…Sport- the great leveller. From feather duster to nearly top rooster in about eight months.
His opposite, Jamie Joseph should probably now be given the Freedom of Dunedin- to be put up for it by the publicans of the South at least anyway. The taps of most establishments must be almost on exhaust supply already. Has the Speights factory ever come close to running out of beer, I wonder…
So, a toast then to a brilliant team who used to have from 1 thru’ 8, a pack of no-names.