My-Landers

The thing with following a sports team with great passion is that it engenders a real sense of ownership.

Take my love for Liverpool, for example. I take it personally when Raheem Sterling wants to leave MY team, and lose sleep when WE stumble in sight of OUR first title in 20 years - gaaarrhhh! Make it stop.

This sort of devotion bordering on obsession can be extremely unhealthy. Witness the instances of hooliganism in football, or the appalling behaviour on so many junior rugby sidelines.

But it can also be magnificently constructive, and warmly embracing, and just flat-out wonderful.

What I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that I - just like you - am proud to be a Highlanders fan today. Objectivity be damned.

I covered the Highlanders for four seasons, and while I never got to cover even one playoff game, I developed a lot of respect for good men such as Greg Cooper, Glenn Moore, Craig Newby, Alando Soakai, Nick Evans, Matt Saunders and others too numerous to mention.

This season (and last), I have watched from the outside with admiration and just a little awe as Jamie Joseph, Ben Smith - possibly my favourite rugby player of all time - and company have provided some special memories, with perhaps the most special to come tonight.

Our sons of the South have represented Clan Highlander with dignity and pride and purpose.

Let's hope WE win tonight.

Top 10, easily

It's a question you have probably all been wondering this week.

Just where would a Highlanders win in tonight's final rate in the 150 Greatest Moments In Otago Sport, as determined by this very newspaper in a far-reaching series four years ago.

(Yes, we'll consider this an Otago moment, even though the Highlanders represent our Southland brothers and sisters as well.)

If you recall, our list was topped by Danyon Loader's swimming heroics and Yvette Williams' long jump gold medal, followed by Alison Shanks and Hamish Bond winning world titles.

I'd put a Super rugby title right in the mix after those moments.

Tickets please

Well, it's July 4, or as the Yanks say, the Fourth of Joo-ly.

There must be some sort of American link we can make to the Highlanders' sensational charge to glory.

Perhaps we could commission one of those dramatic, gritty sports documentaries with a lot of handheld cameras, slow motion and stirring music. And a narrator with a deep and moving voice:''From all corners of the country they came. To follow a dream. And one man.

''This winter, journey with a a group of unlikely heroes as they overcome the odds, put a region on their backs, and find redemption on the fields of glory.

''THE CHOSEN SWEET SEASON UNDER SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - coming soon, to a theatre near you.''

So-called experts

By now, you should have realised that most pundits and tipsters and former players and (especially) journalists are no better than you at predicting sports outcomes.

I mean, just look back at what they said about the Highlanders at the start of this remarkable season.

Our brothers at The New Zealand Herald compiled a panel of predictors, five of whom tipped the Chiefs to win.

One went for the Crusaders and one the Sharks. The Highlanders were not mentioned.

The Sydney Morning Herald confidently predicted the Highlanders would finish LAST in the New Zealand conference.

And, of course, news emerged this week that the TAB was paying $251 for a Highlanders-Hurricanes final at the start of the season.

Closer to home, well, apologies to the great man, but I have to throw Steve Hepburn under the bus here.

Our learned rugby writer knows a bit about the game but he, too, tipped the Chiefs to win it all.

His tip for the Highlanders?

Eighth.

Stumble and fall

Speaking of the notoriously risky exercise of making sporting predictions, spare a thought for another of my colleagues.

This man - he shall remain anonymous, but we'll call him Tony - led the Otago Daily Times Super rugby tipping competition, co-ordinated by racing writer Matt Smith, for TEN weeks.

But, in shades of his BELOVED Team New Zealand throwing away an 8-1 lead, he has crumbled on the final leg, and is now one point off the lead with a game to go.

Friendly relations

Yes, yes, great to have the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy back and to have a schedule of games between the Black Caps and Australia locked in place.

But take a closer look at the arrangement announced this week.

Hat tip to Twitter trainspotter Andrew Dunford (@abdunford), who noted the gap in New Zealand v Australia tests from February 2016 to January 2021 would be the longest since tests between the two resumed in 1973.

The first quote

''He's so nice I feel like sledging him. Even his beard is completely non-threatening.''

- A magnificent description of Black Caps star Kane Williamson by New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue.

The second quote

''It has kind of been a stressful time, these big tournaments that everyone was talking about to me. It's just been a lot of learning. I'm always trying to keep the belief and stay true to myself and do what I need to do to become as good as I know I can be. I've just learned about this world I'm in, being an athlete, the struggles.''

- Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard flames out at Wimbledon.

She has suffered eight first-round losses since reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals in January.

Triumph

The Highlanders are in the Super rugby final.

Unbelievable.

Disaster

Phil Mickelson would probably rather be in the news for his golf than for his links to a dodgy money laundering ring.

hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz

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