I have nothing clever to say about the thrilling Hurricanes vs Highlanders final of the Super 15. Every rugby fan who watched knew he was observing play of the very highest standards. The game could have gone either way but, if you miss 8 points from poor attempts at goal, if your brilliant left wing ‘overruns’ a reasonable pass with the try line open in front of him, if you don’t keep your focus and your cool, you’ll lose when both sides are equally talented.
It’s not a case of saying the Hurricanes deserved to lose because they made a few critical errors under pressure, the fact is the Highlanders only missed 3 points from a pulled penalty, were awarded a try by the TMO, and maintained relentless pressure both on defence and attack. Then replacement flyhalf, Marty Banks, had the sense and skill to drop the goal that sealed the match. It was his third ‘attempt’, the first two being charged so fiercely, he had to run and, from one of them, nearly scored a try as a result. (Older readers will recall the try by Hannes Brewis against Whineray’s All Blacks in 1949 in the second test at Loftus (?) where he feinted to drop, then broke from twenty metres out to score a brilliant try).
Hurricanes’ head coach, Chris Boyd, knew what was going wrong. Interviewed at halftime, he more or less said his side were ‘trying too hard’, ‘trying everything at speed’. He had told them to calm down, play the way they knew how, the way they had reached the final. This they did, but the Highlanders stood firm. Barrett at flyhalf was not, I think, at his best. Too fiddly and diddly. Sopoago was in top form and his decisions all came off. Two great scrumhalves more or less ‘cancelled’ each other out.
Of course, it was apparent from the start, that both teams were aware of the folly of kicking away possession, so there was a minimum of that. With players like Ben Smith and Nehe Milner-Skudder (or, for that matter, Israel Folau of the Waratahs), receiving and counter-attacking, you have to be mad in the head to do so. I don’t think some South African coaches have realised this problem yet. We kick away far too much ball.
The match was characterised by skill in all phases of the game, passing slick, tackles ruthless, turnovers very well-executed, running hard and straight, scrums steady, lineouts OK. It was a privilege to watch.
June and I are off to the UK for a month from 14th July, so I’ll resume ‘commentary’ on our return.