All-Kiwi final after tough night for Aussies
For just the second time in five seasons, there will be no Australian presence in the Super Rugby final after the Hurricanes and Highlanders secured the first all-New Zealand decider since 2006 with emphatic semi-final victories. It was a meek finish for the Brumbies and Waratahs, giving the Wallabies brains trust plenty of food for thought ahead of the World Cup.
Hurricanes blow gritty Brumbies away in Wellington
The Brumbies crafted the best defensive record in the Super XV regular season, but they were unable to contain the table-topping Hurricanes’ brilliant attacking arsenal in a one-sided semi-final at Wellington’s ‘Cake Tin’, the hosts prevailing 29-9. After a dominant first quarter for no reward, the Hurricanes opened the scoring in the 21st minute as wing powerhouse Julian Savea steamrolled his way over. Outside-back sensation Nehe Milner-Skudder brilliantly laid on halfback TJ Perenara’s 11th try of the season six minutes later, giving the home side a 12-3 lead at the break.
Openside flanker Ardie Savea, having a huge game after being overlooked for the All Blacks’ 41-man squad, scored from a rolling maul early in the second stanza, before the Brumbies clawed their way back via two more penalty goals to close the gap to 10 points. But they were unable to breach the Hurricanes’ try-line and the runaway competition leaders sealed their first final berth in nine years when Ma’a Nonu’s break led to winger Matt Proctor’s try in the 74th minute.
Highlanders charge to victory after controversial call
The Highlanders ran away with a 35-17 triumph to end the Waratahs’ title defence in a scrappy but engrossing semi-final in Sydney. A controversial penalty try – and the simultaneous yellow-carding of the offending Jacques Potgieter – dominated the post-match wash-up, but it could not be denied that the fairytale Highlanders deserved their five-tries-to-one victory, and the franchise’s first appearance in a final since 1999. The Waratahs were inexplicably disjointed, making basic errors in general play and at the set-piece.
An early try to Waratahs winger Rob Horne from a Bernard Foley kick was nullified by Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith’s intercept of a Wycliff Palu pass off the back of a scrum near the home side’s line. The Highlanders’ cult hero utility-back Richard Buckman, doing a superb job in the No.12 jumper, scored a remarkable 30-metre solo try against the run of play in the 33rd minute, but Foley’s accurate goalkicking restricted the visitors’ halftime lead to 15-14.
The Wallabies flyhalf edged the ’Tahs in front early in the second stanza, but a dazzling kick-and-chase try by Highlanders wing sensation Waisake Naholo in the 53rd minute created a 20-17 scoreline. The pivotal moment came with 23 minutes remaining as the Highlanders’ other winger, Patrick Osborne came up just short of the try-line. A review revealed a swinging arm by Potgieter that caught Osborne across the jaw, and a contentious penalty try was awarded while the flanker was despatched for 10 minutes. The defending champs hung in grimly, before Osborne sealed the upset result with two minutes to go, latching onto a Lima Sopoaga kick.
Kearns pilloried for biased commentary
Legendary former Australian and NSW hooker Phil Kearns came under heavy fire for his efforts in the commentary box during the Waratahs’ semi-final defeat at the hands of the Highlanders. Not renowned for his impartial calls, Kearns could barely contain his emotions after the Highlanders were awarded a crucial penalty try by South African referee Craig Joubert, who subsequently yellow-carded Waratahs forward Jacques Potgieter – decisions that were later verified as correct under the letter of the Rugby Union laws.
Kearns copped it from social media users on both sides of the Tasman.
I thought Justin Marshall was bad… But then I had to listen to Phil Kearns. #WARvHIG
— Aimee Bell (@aimzbell) June 27, 2015
#WARvHIG I’m very sorry NZ viewers if you have to endure the commentary of Phil Kearns
— steve tozer (@chipsmountain) June 27, 2015
At which point does Phil Kearns’ head explode?
— Eric Young (@RealEricYoung) June 27, 2015
Rod Kafer talking sense. Phil Kearns not so much. #WARvHIG
— Ben Carswell (@bcarswell) June 27, 2015
SUPER XV SEMI-FINAL RESULTS
Hurricanes 29 d. Brumbies 9 @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Highlanders 35 d. Waratahs 17 @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney
SUPER XV FINAL
Hurricanes v Highlanders – 5.35pm (AEST), Saturday, July 4 @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington