Dream lives on for Highlanders

Highlanders fan celebrate at full time on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Highlanders fan celebrate at full time on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.

The Highlanders, with two new All Blacks squad members, are two games from glory and could host the final under their own roof.

The southern franchise, at home for just the second time in a play off, defeated the Chiefs 24-14 on Saturday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium in front of a raucous 22,500 home crowd.

The side will now travel to Sydney to take on the defending champion Waratahs this Saturday at 10pm.

The Hurricanes will host the other semifinal, facing the Brumbies in Wellington earlier on Saturday night.

It was a weekend to remember for the Highlanders, getting five of their squad into the 41 man All Black squad, less than 24 hours after beating the Chiefs, for a third time this season.

For winger Waisake Naholo and first five eighth Lima Sopoaga it was an extra special couple of days.

They were two of five new names announced in the All Black squad.

Naholo (24) has had a stand out year for the Highlanders, scoring 11 tries, to set a record in a season for the side, and that effort was rewarded with a black jersey yesterday.

The Fijian born Naholo said he did not have a television so could not watch the team being read out.

He started getting some texts but it was not until one from Highlanders manager Paul McLaughlan that he believed the All Black dream had come true.

''I was overwhelmed. I couldn't believe it,'' he said.

''Mum and Dad are really excited. It has been a dream year. Just to get the opportunity to get out on the field and represent the Highlanders.''

Naholo is believed to have got out of the contract he had signed with French club Clermont, and is free to continue his Highlanders career.

Sopoaga (24) said he was like any kid growing up in New Zealand - he wanted to be an All Black.

''It was pretty surreal hearing my name, to be honest. It was pretty cool. It is a dream come true,'' he said.

His parents were at the game in Dunedin on Saturday night and were on the road back to Wellington when they heard he had made the team.

Sopoaga, the oldest of six children, said he had to thank the Highlanders for sticking by him in a tough first couple of years with the side. Sopoaga and Naholo would join other Highlanders Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa in the All Black squad.

The two new All Blacks scored all the points for the Highlanders on Saturday night in one of the team's best victories.

The side lit up an at times electric and noisy crowd to pull away from the Chiefs and win the match. If the side beats the Waratahs and the Brumbies triumph over the Hurricanes, the final will be in Dunedin on July 4.



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