New Zealand ugly duck­lings suc­ceed in the Su­per semis

The China Post - - SPORTS -

The Welling­ton Hur­ri­canes and Otago High­landers have be­come the ugly duck­ling sto­ries of New Zealand rugby af­ter de­fy­ing their crit­ics to reach the Su­per 15 fi­nal.

The only New Zealand sides never to have won the Su­per crown started this sea­son as two of the most un­fan­cied out­fits.

But they emerged from the reg­u­lar sea­son as the top two per­form­ers and then com­pre­hen­sively downed the ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs in the Su­per semi­fi­nals on Satur­day.

The Hur­ri­canes and High­landers both spe­cial­ized in pos­i­tive, at­tack­ing rugby with im­pres­sive av­er­ages of nearly four tries and 30 points per game.

The pace- set­ting Hur­ri­canes, whose only pre­vi­ous fi­nal ap­pear­ance was a loss to the Can­ter­bury Cru­saders in 2006, won the right to host the fi­nal when they beat the two-times cham­pion Brumbies 29-9 in Welling­ton.

In Syd­ney, the High­landers crushed the Wal­laby-laden Waratahs 35-17 to book a fi­nal berth for the first time since their lone 1999 ap­pear­ance when they were also beaten by the Cru­saders.

The Hur­ri­canes- High­landers show­down en­sures the south­ern hemi­sphere cham­pi­onship will have a first-time ti­tle­holder, and for the fifth time in the 20-year history of the tour­na­ment it will be an all-New Zealand af­fair.

It was far from fault­less rugby by the Hur­ri­canes but with a back­line in­clud­ing All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Con­rad Smith, Ju­lian Savea and ris­ing new star Nehe Mil­nerSkud­der, coach Chris Boyd said it was worth tak­ing risks.

“If you play a high risk and re­ward game you’ve got to ex­pect you will make mis­takes,” he said, promis­ing the same ap­proach in the fi­nal.

“I don’t sus­pect we’ll change any­thing ac­tu­ally. We are just happy that we can go to the last dance and we do it in our own hall.”

Fit­ness Wor­ries

The only is­sues fac­ing the Hur­ri­canes are the fit­ness of bruis­ing flanker Ardie Savea, who was forced from the field with a knee in­jury af­ter 50 min­utes and on­go­ing ham­string prob­lems which lim­ited Mil­ner-Skud­der to the first half.

Fly-half Beau­den Bar­rett gave up the kick­ing du­ties in the sec­ond half be­cause of hip pain which he said had ham­pered him for years.

Fu­elled by the emo­tion of los­ing for­mer team­mate Jerry Collins in a car ac­ci­dent three weeks ago, and with the packed sta­dium chant­ing “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry,” the Hur­ri­canes had con­trol of the Brumbies af­ter five min­utes.

They scored four tries, two in each half while re­strict­ing the Brumbies to a trio of penal­ties.

For High­landers coach Jamie Joseph, the post-match de­brief af­ter the Waratahs clash had the fa­mil­iar­ity of a well-worn record. How could a team with three All Blacks romp home against the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons who fielded 13 in­ter­na­tion­als?

“You can’t say the same story ev­ery week,” he said.

“It still sur­prises me. In many ways it seems that we’ve fooled the rugby com­mu­nity, they still don’t quite be­lieve in us, what else can these guys do?”

One of High­landers’ big­gest as­sets has been fit­ness, mak­ing them one of the best fin­ish­ing sides in the com­pe­ti­tion.

When they trailed the Waratahs 17-15 af­ter 50 min­utes, they stepped up sev­eral gears to score 20 unan­swered points.

Their cause was helped by a con­tentious penalty try when Jac­ques Pot­gi­eter was given a yel­low card for a swing­ing arm tackle on Pa­trick Os­borne near the Waratahs try-line.

But by that stage the game had al­ready be­come one-way traf­fic and the Waratahs never looked like catch­ing up


High­landers’ Pa­trick Os­borne, right, and Waratahs’ Bernard Fo­ley clash as they leap high to take the ball dur­ing their Su­per Rugby semi­fi­nal match in Syd­ney, Satur­day, June 27.

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