The table-topping Hurricanes and the fairytale Highlanders go head-to-head in the 2015 Super XV final on Saturday night at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, with both Kiwi franchises gunning for their maiden Super Rugby title.
Both teams have contested just one Super Rugby final apiece, both going down to the Crusaders on home soil – the Highlanders 24-19 at Carisbrook in 1999, and the Hurricanes 19-12 in dense fog at Westpac Stadium in 2006.
There are sizzling individual showdowns right across the park: Barrett v Sopoaga, Vito v Manu, Julian Savea v Naholo, Coles v Holtman, Milne-Skudder v Osborne, Marshall v Ben Smith, Conrad Smith v Fekitoa, Nonu v Buckman, Aaron Smith v TJ Perenara – four of which feature near-certain New Zealand Test starters against their All Blacks deputies.
The Hurricanes hold a 14-11 advantage in 25 previous clashes with the Highlanders, including wins in both clashes this season – 20-13 in Dunedin in March, and 56-20 (with the Highlanders resting three star All Blacks) in Napier in the penultimate round.
But the Highlanders won the preceding three encounters, including narrow victories in their last two visits to The Cake Tin – which brings us to this week’s Flashback Friday, and the teams’ epic clash in Wellington in 2013.
The Highlanders, inspired by flyhalf Colin Slade (now pulling the strings for the Crusaders) and Aaron Smith, powered to a 35-13 halftime lead. But the Hurricanes came roaring back into the contest, closing the deficit to just eight points.
A pair of superb long-range tries gave the visitors breathing room at 49-27, but the hosts hit back with two quick five-pointers to set up a grandstand finish before the Highlanders ultimately held on for a thrilling 49-44 victory.