Greatest moments in Otago sport - Number 90

The Otago Daily Times counts down the 150 greatest moments in Otago sport.

No 90: Super 12 final at Carisbrook (1999)

Highlanders first five Tony Brown kicks during the 1999 Super 12 final at Carisbrook. Photo from ...
Highlanders first five Tony Brown kicks during the 1999 Super 12 final at Carisbrook. Photo from <i>ODT</i> files.
It was the Party at Tony Brown's. And it almost - almost - didn't matter that the home team lost.

Highlanders fever has never been higher than in May 1999, when the team hosted the Super 12 final and was beaten 24-19 by a Crusaders side embarking on its dynasty.

The final came just seven months after Otago, which provided the vast majority of the Highlanders squad, had stormed to victory in the national provincial championship.

But there appeared next to no chance the Super 12 final would be played at Carisbrook.

The Highlanders had qualified third, and the Crusaders fourth.

Both needed to win semifinals for a dream Carisbrook playoff - and both did. The Crusaders edged the Reds 28-22 in Brisbane, and the Highlanders pulled off a stunning 33-18 win over the Stormers in Cape Town.

That meant the Tony Gilbert-coached Highlanders hosted the final, but it also meant they faced the long trip home.

The next few days were a whirlwind, as Dunedin and the regions went Highlanders mad.

Houses and shops were draped in blue, gold and maroon (no green in sight), tickets sold like hotcakes - the lot in 13 hours - and the "Party at Tony Brown's" promotion went viral before anyone had even heard that word.

Somehow, 41,000 fans crammed into Carisbrook on a Sunday afternoon. In a small sign of unwanted results to come, five members of the New Zealand Air Force dropped down via parachute but could not land inside the ground because of strong winds.

The Highlanders led 14-9 at halftime but the key moment came midway through the second spell when nifty Crusaders winger Afato So'oalo slipped through the home defence to score a try.

The Highlanders made it to the semifinals again in 2000 and 2002.

Then followed a long period of poor results, but there were welcome signs of a resurgence under new coach Jamie Joseph, and a veteran first five called Brown, this season.

Those arguing the Highlanders needed a new identity because of their lack of history might like to think back to the glory days of 1999.



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