Can the Hurricanes really claim the Super Rugby crown?

8:57 am on 18 July 2016

Opinion - Being a rugby supporter in Wellington is not for the faint-hearted.

The Hurricanes - the franchise based in Wellington - finished top of the Super Rugby table, courtesy of a 35-10 defeat of the Crusaders over the weekend.

They've stormed into the play-offs on a high.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The victory over the Crusaders was superbly conceived, with the Hurricanes declining to take penalty kicks and staking all on scoring tries to secure maximum bonus points.

Star first-five Beauden Barrett termed it a "high risk-high reward" policy and it paid off with a five tries to one triumph.

Sadly, we supporters of Wellington rugby know the gods are toying with us again.

Every New Zealand franchise except the Hurricanes has won a Super Rugby crown in the competition's 20 years. The Crusaders have won seven!

The Hurricanes have made the final only twice. They lost 19-12 to the Crusaders in the fog in 2006 and last year Lima Sopoaga, whom the All Black selectors didn't even want, dominated the final and steered the Highlanders to a 21-14 victory.

Hurricanes supporters understand that the ultimate satisfaction of winning the Super title will surely be denied them again this year.

Next weekend they host the Sharks, who have had only an average season. Will the Hurricanes lose that one?

Hurricanes supporters understand that the Super title will surely be denied them again this year.

Hurricanes supporters should think twice about getting their hopes up. Photo: Photosport

Or, even more cruelly, will they win and meet the Crusaders again in the semi-finals? They're the sorts of matches the Crusaders know how to win and the Hurricanes generally don't.

There are fine players in the Hurricanes lineup - Cory Jane, Julian and Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Barrett and inspirational captain Dane Coles among them.

They'll play with commitment and fire, but will it be enough? To be harshly realistic, probably not.

For Wellington rugby fans, it has always been thus.

Auckland have won the national championship first division title 16 times and Canterbury 12.

Wellington have won just four - in 1978, 1981, 1986 and 2000.

In 2000, Norm Hewitt, the captain, played with a broken arm. Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Jason O'Halloran, Jonah Lomu, Jerry Collins, Alama Ieremia, David Holwell, Rodney So'oialo and the rest were the province's heroes.

Now it's 2016 and we're still harking back to 2000 for a bit of rugby solace.

It's been the same with the Ranfurly Shield.

Wellington have won the shield 10 times since its inception in 1904 and averaged only four defences each time. Canterbury and Auckland average nine defences and Hawke's Bay 12.

In 1963, Wellington won the shield from Auckland, celebrated for a week and lost it the following Saturday 17-3 to Taranaki.

Wellington have held it only once in the past 34 years, for a measly four defences in 2008.

England v Iceland - Iceland players celebrate their 2nd goal.

Last month Iceland stunned England 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the Euro 16. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

I'm now looking to recent football upsets for encouragement.

Lowly Leicester shocked the football world by winning the 2016 English Premier League crown. Never mind the massive wages paid to the superstars at Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Leicester finished 10 points clear in what many claim was the biggest upset in sports history (if you exclude David beating Goliath, and even that was a one-off result).

Last month Iceland, population 338,000, stunned England 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the Euro 16 tournament, another monumental upset.

And, I remind myself, other teams have overcome even longer losing streaks than the Hurricanes.

The Boston Red Sox went from 1918 to 2004 without winning a major league baseball title. The Chicago White Sox went even longer, from 1917 to 2005.

The Wallabies have known grim times in rugby. They haven't won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002 and at one point went 45 years without beating the All Blacks in Australia.

The New Zealand cricket team had to wait 44 matches and 26 years for their first test win, still the world record - even Bangladesh had to wait only 34 matches.

On reflection, maybe there's a glimmer of hope after all.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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