The 2015 Super Rugby final pits the two most entertaining and deserving teams of the season against each other in what should be a mouth-watering encounter in Wellington. Neither New Zealand team has ever won a Super Rugby championship, so both teams will be looking to enter their names into the history books.
The Hurricanes have topped the table all season and are very close to their first ever Super Rugby title. They have been setting the standards this year with their thrilling, fast paced rugby that has included not only the backs but also the forwards. Dane Coles typifies this; he is a hooker, but has the pace and sidestep that many a back would be proud of. The likes of Ardie Savea and Brad Shields in the back-row are insatiably mobile, and have had a hand in some of their best tries this season. TJ Perenara is joint top scorer for the season, which tells you everything about how intelligent his support lines are. In Nehe Milner-Skudder they have one of the more bizarrely named breakthrough players, and with Julian Savea on the other wing, they have poachers in abundance. Tellingly, they are the first team in many years that has been able to finally coax Ma’a Nonu’s best form out on the club stage, replicating the player that has been so dominant for New Zealand down the years. However, as everyone knows, pulling that same quality out of the bag in a Grand Final is easier said than done.
The Hurricanes came through their semi-final with flying colours, making easy work of their opponents, the Brumbies, last weekend. It was also only barely a month ago that the Canes blew the Highlanders out of Napier with a 56-20 defeat, but certain selection tactics mean that this weekend’s game is bound to be tighter. They have named an unchanged side but Ardie Savea is still doubtful after getting injured against the Brumbies.
In terms of entertainment, the only team that has come close to the Canes this season is the Hurricanes. They have been an absolute joy to watch, although they haven’t quite managed to turn that into consistency as well as the table-toppers. Like their hosts, they have named an unchanged side from last weekend. Their duo of wingers Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo continue and in the midfield Lima Sopoaga’s fine form has been rewarded with an All Black call-up. The pack is hugely underrated (not one of them made it into the All Black squad for the Rugby Championship) but has been going toe-to-toe with the best in the competition all season as their performance against the much-fancied Waratahs outfit last weekend showed. Nasi Manu, the co-captain, will lead from the front and would love to go out with a bang and a trophy for the province he has dedicated so much to.
Like the Hurricanes, the Highlanders breezed through their semi-final last weekend, where they beat the 2014 champions the Waratahs by a scoreline of 35-17. Unlike the Hurricanes though, the Highlanders had to compete in the first round of playoffs, hosting the Chiefs in a local derby, which saw them prevail 24-14 in what was again a terrific contest.
The Hurricanes won on both occasions when these two teams met in the regular season, including a 36-point annihilation in Napier (although the Highlanders did rest all their big names for that game). The margin of victory this weekend won’t be anywhere near that but the quality of rugby on show should be exactly the same. Both of these sides have proved themselves to be committed to a high scoring style of rugby throughout the season, rather than relying on defence and kicking. The magnitude of the occasion (whatever the result there will be a new name on the trophy) could lead to a few nervy errors early on, but once they settle into the game expect it to be another vintage Kiwi derby.
Given the way they breezed through the regular season and that they are at home (where they have only lost once all season), you would be mad not to back the hosts to pick up their maiden title.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 7 Points.