Rugby: A to Z of a wonderful Highlanders season

Ben Smith (right) of the Highlanders sits his daughter upon the trophy during a street parade to...
Ben Smith (right) of the Highlanders sits his daughter upon the trophy during a street parade to celebrate the Highlanders Super Rugby Grand Final victory in Dunedin. Photo by Getty

Oh, you thought we had stopped writing stories about your 2015 Highlanders? 

Bah ha ha ha. 

We will NEVER stop writing about them.

Every season preview from now until the Super 56 begins in 2032 will reference the CHAMPION Highlanders.

Heck, most Highlanders stories of any description for the next 50 years will have some sort of mention of the annus mirabilis.

The dust has settled on the memorable 21-14 win over the Hurricanes in the final, so here is an A to Z of a weird and wonderful season.

A is for Alex Ainley. Perhaps the poster child for the unexpected rise of the Highlanders. Here is a 33-year-old ‘‘rookie'' coming off three years with the Mitsubishi Dynaboars. Yep. What an absolute warrior in the final stages of the season.

B is for the Bye. Incredible to think the Highlanders had the bye in the opening week, meaning they basically only had one in-season break while every other team had two.

C is for Champions. Champions, champions, champions, champions, CHAMPIONS. Say it a million times and it never gets old.

D is for Drop goal. The Highlanders played an entertaining brand of rugby but also showed a willingness to risk the wrath of the crowd by having a crack at the old droppie. They kicked five in total.

E is for Eye. Somebody get Nasi Manu a DVD of the final. No way did he actually see what was going on with that bung eye.

F is for Fate. And Fairytale. And Fumiaki Tanaka (everyone loves Fumi). And F-f-f-f-far out, can you actually believe this happened?

G is for Green jersey. It is what it is, folks. You can't really complain about it now.

H is for Hepburn, first name Steve. The Otago Daily Times rugby writer really should be on some sort of incentive bonus scheme. A couple of years after replacing an under-performing rugby writer (a bloke whose claim to fame was covering the All Blacks losing a World Cup QUARTERFINAL), Hepburn was there when the All Blacks finally won the cup back. Two years after that, he became the first ODT rugby writer in 56 years to write about a Ranfurly Shield-winning Otago team. Two years after that, he became the first ODT rugby writer EVER to write about a title-winning Highlanders team. Lock in Zingari-Richmond to win the banner in 2017, and Kaikorai Valley College to win the schools competition in 2019. Hepburn = lucky charm.

I is for Inspiration. The Highlanders were the epitomy of a champion team, but we must single out Aaron Smith for special praise. He may be the best rugby player in the world.

J is for Jamie Joseph. King Jake. Many of us wondered if he could lead the Highlanders out of the abyss of 2013 (see below). We should never have doubted him.

K is for Kult hero (yes, I know). Dan Pryor, the dreadlocked Northland tearaway, was attaining that status before he got injured. More to come from this bloke.

L is for Landers. It is what it is, folks. You can't really complain about it now.

M is for Magnificent. Elliot Dixon, our deepest apologies for ever underrating you. Utterly brilliant.

N is for Nacho Man. The very catchy post-victory song for popular co-captain Nasi ‘‘Nacho'' Manu. What a man, what a player. He leaves a big hole.

O is for Otago. Speaking of songs, how wicked to see the original OTAGO Highlanders theme song making a comeback. (Hey, Southlanders, lighten up and sing.) Probably the greatest theme song in the history of New Zealand sport.

P is for Predictions. I want everyone who legitimately tipped the Highlanders to win the 2015 title to email me ASAP. I'd like to know tonight's Lotto numbers.

Q is for Quiz Question. Here's a good one that will stump even the most hard-core Highlanders fan: Name the four players who each made a single appearance for the Highlanders this season. Answer at the bottom.

R is for Right on the money. Look at this quote from Joseph at the start of the campaign, describing Ainley and Mark Reddish and all the other low-profile new signings: ‘‘All these guys have great character and will add value to the team''. Spot. On.

S is for Swanndri. The famous clothing company certainly got its money's worth out of the attention given to the Highlanders' garish, er, colourful, casual wear.

T is for Thirteenth . . . wow, actually it was FOURTEENTH the Highlanders finished just two years ago. From second-last to champions. Stunning.

U is for Unsung heroes. Reddish and Ainley and Josh Hohneck and Brendon Edmonds . . . the list goes on.

V is for Vanquished foes. Did the Hurricanes choke in the final? I don't think so. They were outplayed and out-coached. Tough biccies, Canes fans.

W is for Wisdom. The Tony Brown factor must not be underestimated. His influence on the Highlanders has been immense.

X is for X-factor. Obviously, a couple of Highlanders backs have this in spades. But the fact a Highlanders squad built largely on workrate, togetherness and commitment charged to glory suggests X factor may be overrated.

Y is for Yes. It was a try. Because big Elliot says so.

Z is for Zzzzzzz. Oh, bugger. We're all asleep. This is just a dream?

(Answer to the quiz question: Hayden Parker, Josh Renton, Scott Eade and Jackson Hemopo).

- hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz

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