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Delany gives Highlanders a kick


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 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
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SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
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NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
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SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
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FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
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ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
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SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
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IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
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TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
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WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
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NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
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SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
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ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
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CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
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NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
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ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
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Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
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SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
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ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
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