The Roar
The Roar


Last year was so good, let's do a Hurricanes vs Highlanders final all over again

28th July, 2016
Will we see the 2015 grand final again in 2016? (AFP PHOTO / Anthony Phelps)
28th July, 2016
1946 Reads

Despite being two of the better teams all year, it never felt obvious that the best two teams last year would meet in the Super Rugby final in 2016.

Now, after appearing in opposite sides of the semi-final bracket, the Hurricanes and Highlanders have a chance to qualify again, and throw down in a repeat of their epic 2015 Super Rugby final.

With an elongated season, it feels like the playoffs are here and gone in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden there are only three more matches left in 2016, before we have to wait for six months to see these teams again.

One of the good things about the NBA playoffs, or MLB, is that you get to savour the best teams in longer series against each other. The epic seven-game series between Warriors and the Thunder, then the Cavs, were the lingering reward for a season that included too many Philadelphia 76ers versus Orlando Magic matches.

A longer Super Rugby season means we had more dismal Force, Reds and Kings matches drilled into our corneas than we’d otherwise want to see.

But the finals are still only seven matches long. Here and then gone.

What we can say about the semifinals is we have the four correct teams playing on the penultimate weekend.

Despite the lopsided draw, weird conference alignments and much gnashing of teeth, the Hurricanes, Chiefs, Lions and Highlanders are the best four teams in the competition this year. Of the rest, only the Crusaders had a claim to belonging in that company, but they were comprehensively beaten by the Lions last weekend.


Last year’s final has lingered on in my mind, as it has for many others. And the prospect of the Hurricanes and Highlanders both advancing to resume their series is a tantalising one.

The Highlanders have the tougher task of the two – travelling to South Africa is never easy and they’ll come up against a buoyant opponent in Johannesburg.

Last week the Lions proved they belonged at the top of the log and defended their home turf superbly against the Crusaders.

The Lions fast start meant the Crusaders were behind the game early, which is a hard position to come back from away from home.

Then the Lions adapted to the lead and changed their style to suit – kicking the ball long and keeping it in the field of play. This tactic ensured the Crusaders had to come the length of the field more often than not and reduced the number of set pieces in the game, taking one of their strengths away.

Before the game I said Elton Jantjies was a candidate for melting under pressure because I’d seen it happen on other occasions. Against the Crusaders he showed he was ready for the stage and was calm under pressure while sticking to the game plan for the most part. I’ll cop to being wrong about him.

This year he has been one of the better fly halves in the competition and I should have given him that benefit of the doubt before last week.


Besides Jantjies and Faf de Klerk the Lions team are populated by typically large South African units. They are a quick, attacking team, but they don’t give a whole lot of size away to achieve that.

The Lions have beaten the Chiefs and Crusaders this year, including that quarter final victory. So they know how to adapt their style to suit the Kiwi teams. Unlike basically everyone else this year.

However, in their earlier meeting this year, the Highlanders beat the Lions to the tune of 34-15 in Dunedin. While I don’t think the margin will be that wide on the weekend I think the result will be the same.

I’ll admit a small part of me rooting for the grand final rematch shines through in that prediction. But the Highlanders are a different proposition right now.

Two weeks ago the Highlanders beat the Chiefs in what might have been the game of the Super Rugby season. And while they were run close by the Brumbies last week, unless the rain comes down in a similar manner in Johannesburg I don’t see the game being played in the same way.

The Highlanders have the legs to match the Lions’ speed and counter-attacking game, and the likes of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga will be able to blunt the Lions’ tactical adjustments should they be used again.

I also have more faith that the Highlanders will make more tackles than the Crusaders without starting to miss some.


So, will the Hurricanes be waiting for the Highlanders?

I think so, given how they played last week. After that performance, even without home field advantage through the finals, the Hurricanes have to be favourites to win it all. Which means they should beat the Chiefs.

What the Chiefs produced last week in Cape Town was magnificent. It was a tour de force of away rugby power. They blitzed the Stormers, absorbed their one flurry of return fire and just ran away with the match like me once I get my hands on a good cheesecake.

Obviously the forwards must take a lot of the credit for such a lopsided score line in any rugby match, especially one where some of the overall statistics – runs, run metres, possession – don’t tilt far in the winner’s favour, if at all.

But I’d just like to take a minute and reflect on the absurd depth the Chiefs have at halfback.

Last week I said the Chiefs would be able to arrest any backward momentum they encountered against the Stormers because of their fly half Aaron Cruden and the fighting-down the guts nature of their usual starting halfback Tawera Kerr Barlow.

But the Chiefs started with Brad Weber and it worked a treat. Kerr Barlow has a combative and direct nature to his game. In this instance Weber’s quick decision-making, early and accurate pass, plus alert support lines were exactly what the Chiefs needed. He pulled the strings beautifully in tandem with Cruden as the Chiefs cranked the speed and pressure up to ten right from the start.


Kerr Barlow came on later and continued the festival of rugby superbly. Both halfbacks scored a try as well.

The Chiefs one-two punch at nine has to be the best in the competition.

The weather the Hurricanes played in against the Sharks last weekend was horrendous. And they calmly went about playing as if it was a balmy evening.

As any good finals team would, they set up their game around a stout defence. Then if they wanted to run the ball, they did. If they wanted to kick for the line, they did. If they wanted to keep it tight and hold onto possession, they did. If they wanted to kick and contest the catch, they did.

All the while rain was coming down on wind blowing from every corner of the compass.


A mitigating factor is the loss of Dane Coles for the Canes – or at the very least a less effective Coles. While the Chiefs are confident Sam Cane will play and get at least Seti Tamanivalu back, if not Michael Leitch as well.


Earlier this year the Chiefs snuck home 28-27 in this round robin clash. So we should be looking at a close one. Perhaps a classic.

After a second week on the road, I think it’ll be a bridge too far for the Chiefs, who are coming up against a home team hitting their straps.

Bring on the grand final re-match.

The counter-argument to everything I’ve said so far is to consider my three-from-three record in last week’s predictions, admit that was too good to be true and wait for me to fall on my face this week.