Highlanders survive late fightback to win maiden Super Rugby title
Last Updated: 04/07/15 1:00pm
The Highlanders survived a late fightback from the Hurricanes to take their maiden Super Rugby title with a 21-14 win.
The newly crowned champions were never behind in the game, despite having less territory and possession than their opponents, but were made to defend furiously in the latter stages of the game to win the 2015 Super Rugby competition.
A try from Elliot Dixon on the half-time hooter gave his side a 13-5 lead going into the break before Waisake Naholo crossed early in the second period to give his side a healthy advantage. But thereafter the visitors were forced to endure a sustained period of enterprise from the Hurricanes as they sought to overturn the advantage through the boot of Beauden Barrett.
The Highlanders were ultimately able to hold on to their narrow lead before a drop goal from Marty Banks with four minutes remaining gave them breathing space and the eventual win and title.
The first half belonged to the Highlanders despite a healthy dose of possession for the Hurricanes. Both sides stayed loyal to the positive rugby that brought them to the final as the ball was kept in play at furious pace. The attacking rugby did nothing for the scoreboard though, with a lone Lima Sopoaga penalty all to show for the opening quarter.
Sopoaga added another from the boot before Ma'a Nonu crossed out wide to make it a one point game after the conversion was missed by Barrett. The miss was his third of the game, having already sent two penalty attempts wide in the early parts of the half.
The score looked to stay that way before an Aaron Smith break led to Dixon getting the ball with plenty to do, but he held off four Hurricanes defenders to stretch over for a vital score that gave his side an eight point lead.
The Hurricanes came out in the second half with purpose and held onto the ball even more in the opening exchanges, but as was the case throughout the game, the patient Highlanders defence held out for the turnover.
On the back of the turnover the visitors worked the ball up the field, going through two penalty advantages before Dixon slipped a pass to Naholo on the right wing for the first score of the second period. Sopoaga missed the conversion.
The score seemed to spark the Hurricanes, who, in front of a frenetic sold-out stadium, launched a fightback that brought them within touching distance of the Highlanders.
Barrett, shaking his poor kicking form from the first half, notched two penalties before a sweeping move to the left at the end of the third quarter brought a last pass to Julian Savea with the tryline in diving distance. But the All Black winger, superb all season, spilled the pass that would have drawn the Hurricanes level with the conversion.
Barrett was able to add another penalty to bring his side to within four points of the visitors, but a Marty Banks drop goal in the dying moments was enough for the Highlanders to see out the win and take the 2015 Super Rugby title.