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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.

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
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