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Delany gives Highlanders a kick

Date

Marc Hinton

Cool head … Highlanders five-eighth Mike Delany played a starring role in his side's win over the Blues.

Cool head … Highlanders five-eighth Mike Delany played a starring role in his side's win over the Blues. Photo: Getty Images

WHAT is it about No.10s and their feel-good stories in New Zealand rugby? Last year it was Stephen Donald riding to the rescue of the All Blacks, now it's Mike Delany going "hi-ho Highlanders, here I come''.

Not that he was a lone ranger in Friday night's bounce-back, and somewhat fortuitous, 30-27 victory over the Blues under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, but the 29-year-old emergency recruit certainly played a prominent part.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph had hatched a plan a few weeks back to solve his five-eighth crisis by bringing Delany - a nine-game Highlander in 2008 - back from Japan where he has been plying his trade for the Panasonic Wild Knights.

Not that the rescue mission was all smooth sailing. It took a short conversation for it to be agreed, a frantic fortnight to tuck away all the paperwork and 80 scintillating minutes for it to be revealed as a glorious success.

Delany slotted seven of his nine shots at goal and provided a cut and thrust in the No.10 jersey that had the Highlanders backs looking as threatening as they've been all season. Given as he was a relative stranger to most of his team it was a promising return, to say the least.

Joseph confirmed player and coach had found mutual ground easily, but it was insurance (and a lingering shoulder injury) that spun out a fortnight-long delay.

"He had a marvellous game," Joseph said. "He's a player we wanted to bring to the Highlanders when I first came down here, but he wanted to go to Japan, as players do. For him to come back and play for us has been a godsend given we've got Lima [Sopoaga] and Colin [Slade] out."

Sometimes the good things in life are worth waiting for. And Delany, who's contracted to return to Japan after this fill-in stint, would appear to be one of them. The single-test All Black stamped his class all over a game that was in the balance until the final minutes, with the hapless Blues turning down several kickable penalties to press for the victory.

Continuing a theme for their season, Pat Lam's men came up short. Delany played a seriously important part in that. His classy no-look pass was the flash-point for the opening try to Shaun Treeby and his ambition and adventure breathed much-needed life into the home back line. "He hasn't played with us and had to take in a lot of information, game plans, new guys and then gel into the position. I thought he might struggle with all that but he was outstanding," Joseph said.

In a pretty committed showing from both sides, it may have been the lure of the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy that got the Highlanders over the hump. They haven't held it since 2006 and a pre-game speech from the late Hunter's son-in-law, ex-Highlander Kelvin Middleton, stoked a few passions. "Sentimental reasons are not going to win matches but in tight games it seems to lift you," said Joseph, rapt to honour a coach he admired.

The Highlanders coach is nothing if not a realist. He understands his team's sixth win from eight outings was in the balance right till the end and they head to South Africa for games against the improved Cheetahs and proven Sharks with their season still in a similar state of uncertainty. "It's going to be a big tour for us," Joseph said. "If we can come away with some good results then we're on our way."

The injury news was all positive too, with nothing fresh to report.

Joseph, meanwhile, felt the Blues produced a performance that should ease some of the criticism that's hung over them throughout an under-performing season. "Up front they were probably one of our toughest opponents to date," he said.

HuffPost Australia

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 0vs FJI 0 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
France 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0 0
Canada 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tonga 0 0 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Romania 0 0 0 0 0 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0
England 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 0 0 0 0 0 0
USA 0 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Fiji 0 0 0 0 0 0
Samoa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Africa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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