Highlanders’ win gives Boks hope

The Highlanders showed the Springboks how to beat the All Blacks in a knockout match, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

The Highlanders’ win against the Hurricanes for a first ever Vodacom Super Rugby title has to give every South African rugby supporter hope that the Springboks could beat the All Blacks in the World Cup, should the teams win their quarter-final matches.

There is always doom and gloom in South Africa when it comes to the Boks’ prospects of victory against the All Blacks. The occasional win at Ellis Park always acts as a temporary release and then rugby depression usually hits when the All Blacks go on a four-or five-match winning streak against the Boks.

The South African Super Rugby challenge in 2015 was woeful and for the first time since 2003, no South African team qualified for the semi-finals. The final, played last weekend, was exclusive to New Zealand, but the detail of that final, won 21-14 by the Highlanders, is something that should be studied by every South African supporter because it shows that nothing can be taken for granted in one-off knockout matches.

The Hurricanes, the form team in Super Rugby, and comfortable 29-9 winners against the Brumbies in their semi-final, were the bookies’ favourite to win comfortably. Rugby commentators were unanimous that the Hurricanes would win easily. Most had the Canes to win by 10-15 points.

Former All Blacks, Force and Lions coach John Mitchell wrote that the Canes would win because they were a better team in every area of the game. The Canes also had the advantage of playing the semi-final and final at home after losing just two league matches in 16 starts.

'I believe the Hurricanes are better than the Highlanders in all areas of the game,” wrote Mitchell. 'Chris Boyd’s charges are superior in their attacking shape, possess the ability to hurt a team on the short side and are more likely to go where the defence doesn’t fold.

'The Hurricanes’ goal-line and lineout driving defence is marginally better than that of the Highlanders, their pack can be a lot more direct if necessary, and their lineout drive is highly effective.'

Mitchell predicted a game in which the Hurricanes would aim to raise the tempo and speed the game up at every opportunity.

Few, before kick-off, would have disagreed with Mitchell.

But it was in concluding his column that Mitchell got it wrong. He wrote that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer would not adopt anything from these two finalists because the Springboks would certainly not play like New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams at the World Cup.

As it turned out, the Highlanders played very much like a Springbok team has done on those occasions when they have claimed victory against the All Blacks.

And the Hurricanes imploded, as those All Black teams did on those few times when the Boks sustained the physicality, the discipline for 80 minutes.

The Highlanders were effective in slowing down the ruck ball, maintained a game plan that used line kicking as an attacking weapon, and used a rush defence to harass the Canes attack.

The Hurricanes were predictable in that they played only one way, which was to attack from all areas.

The blueprint for the Boks versus the All Blacks was very much what we saw in Wellington at the weekend.

The Boks are capable of producing those one-off 80-minute displays like we saw from the Highlanders. And the All Blacks have been beaten in the past because of a failure to adapt their attacking instincts against opposition that got the rush defence right.

The Highlanders have again given hope to South Africans, even if the hope does not necessarily come with conviction.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images