March 28 2009

‘Manawatu’ Highlanders exultant.

Having not hosted Super Rugby since 2007 the Manawatu public responded in good numbers when arrangements were made for the Dunedin based Highlanders team to play a “home” game in Palmerston North. Despite the Bulls, unbeaten after five matches against the Highlanders modest two wins from six, being hot favourites there was strong support for the Highlanders from the Palmerston North crowd. And they were rewarded, with the Highlanders providing all the highlights with a 36 – 12 win.

 


Jimmy Cowan - Highlanders captain.

“Fervent crowd witness to Bulls’ unexpected hammering.

By Peter Lampp

Even the Highlanders had to acknowledge the din from the big crowd at FMG Stadium on Saturday night helped them whip the startled Blou Bulls.

An impressed Highlanders chied executive Richard Reid was overjoyed afterwards about seeing the stadium 80 per cent full.

The fervent 10,000 crowd, which even Mexican waved, was the second highest to watch the ‘Manawatu’ Highlanders this season. And the atmosphere carried the team to a totally unforeseen 36 – 12 hammering of the competition leaders.

After the rousing ACDC tune Thunderstruck boomed out over the excessively loud speakers it was all on. The Bulls coaches, including former test wing Peter Rossouw, must have thought they were back in Loftus Versfeld.

Coach Frans Ludeke barked out orders in the guttural Afrikaans to the wired-up Victor Matfield at ringside, but the Highlanders loosies commanded all of the low ground. When Ludeke hustled off his Springbok stars, Fourie du Preez and Bakkies Botha, late in the second half with the ‘home’ team out of sight, it was clear he had run up the white flag.

They had run clean into a Highlanders’ ambush, which probably wouldn’t have happened in front of 4000 or 5000 lonely souls shivering at Carisbrook. The Bulls, unbeated and laden with nine test players in their 22, chose to arrive at the last minute in Palmerston North for what should have been a routine win.

After all, they’d beaten the Highlanders 47 – 17 in Pretoria last year. It was their heaviest hammering since losing 50 – 12 last year, to the Hurricanes at Loftus.

There was no socializing after Saturday’s game as the Bulls took off in their bus for the Kingsgate.

The omens were positive for Manawatu once the day dawned. The forecasted rain stayed away and the pre sales of 5000 were doubled by the walk-up mob. Even the wInd dropped In the second spell, much to the Bulls displeasure.

 Although the Highlanders will have one less home game next year they will have to consider a repeat.

“We need to think carefully about it.” Reid said. “Whether it is here or somewhere else, I think a few provincial unions will be  giving me a call in the next few days.”

But given the fervour of the fans, the quaIity of the match and the result, the Highlanders would be nuts to risk going somewhere else. Reid said not a lot happened in “smaller towns”, hence the success of this game, although Dunedin is hardly Disneyland either.

As for the match, the Highlanders were stinger missiles, never Ietting the big Bulls settle. As captain Jimmy Cowan said, they are known to be big Bullies who like to boss opponents, and his men cut them off at the ankles, stealing or ripping ball everywhere. Cowan tore an ankle ligament in touch practice at Linton Camp on Thursday, played after a needle jab and was still able to intercept and dash 60 metres before test wing Akona Ndungane ran him down.

Openside flanker Alando Soakai was superb, in the mould of Manawatu forager Josh Bradnock and so were lock Tom Donnelly arid prop Jamie Mackintosh. Flanker Adam Thomson has been considered by most to be a Reuben Thorne type All Black but not after this, capplng it off with a thrilling late try saving tackle.

The backs died for the defensive cause and the speed of the ball when they got it was too much for the Afrikaaners. Manawatu man Hayden Triggs trooped to the blood bin after only two minutes but stayed the distance, robbing a threatening Bulls lineout near the end.

Johnny Leota received a triumphal roar from the crowd simply by trotting on for the last 18.

The Bulls disappointed, were moribund on attack, relying on their beef and Morne Steyn kicking into the westerly, which few Kiwi teams would do. Their tries came from a quick penalty tap and when Chiliboy Ralepelle caught the Highlanders napping. The Highlanders scored five tries, mostly from rapid fire waves of attack. Enough said.”

From “Manawatu Evening Standard” 30 March 2009. Back page.

 Scoring:

Highlanders 36: Shoemark, Bowden, J Cowan, Berquist, Dagg tries. Berquist 4 con., Penalty.

Bulls 12: van den Heever, Steyn tries. Steyn Con.

The teams.