5 Jul 2015

Hero Highlanders head home

10:52 am on 5 July 2015

Elated Highlanders fans, clad in blue and gold, are expected to welcome back the Super Rugby champions at Dunedin Airport this morning.

The Highlanders are due to land in Dunedin at 10.50am, after claiming a 21-14 victory over the Hurricanes in front of a sold-out Westpac Stadium last night.

Highlanders fans during the Super Rugby Final.

Highlanders fans during the Super Rugby Final. Photo: Photosport

Highlanders Coach: We took our chances and won

Social media has been awash with exuberant fans sharing plans to welcome the team home.

The final had fans in both Dunedin and Wellington at the edge of their seats, as Hurricanes supporters clung to the possibility of a last-minute win.

But the whistle blew and the Highlanders claimed their first Super Rugby victory.

Highlanders' Richard Buckman celebrates with fans after their historic win.

Highlanders' Richard Buckman celebrates with fans after their historic win. Photo: Photosport

Scenes of utter jubilation filled the fanzone in the Dunedin Town hall, with more than 1000 people clapping and screaming in celebration.

Dunedin North MP David Clark was among them - and was ecstatic.

Highlanders fans celebrated after theri team beat the Hurricanes 21-14 in the Super Rugby Final

Jubilant Highlanders fans celebrated through the night. Photo: RNZ/Daryl Baser

He said the Highlanders had the smallest catchment and smallest budget, but the biggest hearts.

"You can't beat that".

"That's the Kiwi story, good on the Highlanders - that's fantastic stuff."

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the win "means a huge amount to the team, the people of Otago and Southland and fans further afield."

A central city parade will be held on Monday to congratulate the team, he said.

Led by a brass band, the Highlanders will travel on the back of utes along Frederick Street and George Street to the Octagon.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph put the team's win down to the two hard play-off games endured ahead of the final.

"Especially after the last two weeks where we played the Chiefs and the Waratahs, we felt that we had a really good preparation coming into the match.

"We knew it was going to be a tough battle, like it was, and we just felt that the fact that we've had two hard games might have been a wee bit of a point of difference - because we went into the last match really fresh without any injuries - so I thought the preparation, because of those two matches, could have helped us a hell of a lot."

The Highlanders after beating the Hurricanes in the Super 15 final.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said two hard play-off games helped the team prepare. Photo: Photosport

In Wellington, Highlanders fans were in the minority, but they made themselves heard among the crowd.

Highlanders supporter Aaron Smith, who lives in Blenheim, said he only got tickets to the final match about midday yesterday, after a friend fell sick.

He said he immediately booked flights and went straight to the stadium when he landed in Wellington.

"I'm stoked to be here," he said. "It's been a dream just to win."

Will Stephenson yesterday said he witnessed the Highlanders lose to the Crusaders in the 1999 final, and it was exciting to see them now claim victory.

"We are feeling very excited. To come here tonight expecting a loss and getting a victory, it's just very emotional really. Unbelievable."

But Hurricanes fans left the stadium disappointed, as their team is now the only New Zealand team not to win the Super Rugby competition.

Dejected Hurricanes players Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith & TJ Perenara after their loss to the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Final.

Dejected Hurricanes players Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith & TJ Perenara after their loss to the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Final. Photo: Photosport

Kieran McAnulty, from Masterton, yesterday said the loss was devastating, but the Highlanders deserved to win.

"I was there when we lost to the Crusaders in Canterbury and I'm very sad to say I was there tonight," he said.

"I'm starting to pick up a theme as I was there when the All Blacks lost to France in Cardiff in 2007, so I might start watching rugby from home from now on."

Hurricanes fan Billy Penfold said it felt strange to not be celebrating while walking out of the home team's stadium.

He said he knew from the beginning of the match it was going to be a tough game. "They weren't quite up to it in the end," he said.

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