Things are looking up for the smallest franchise in the Super Rugby competition given that they were struggling as New Zealand's worst franchise in recent years and they feared losing the franchise's biggest ITM Cup province Otago up until recently.
The Highlanders have been playing home matches in front of large crowds for a change this time it is at the new indoor stadium at Forsyth Barr Stadium instead of Carisbrook. They now also have enough firepower in their backline to match their forward pack and more depth than previous years. They also have a high work ethic which hopefully won't knock the stuffing out of the team later on.
The marketing team's decision to make their team play in a green jersey which symbolised the new direction of the region rather than the history of the province of Otago was an absolute masterstroke on Saturday night. Sure it was criticised heavily last year, but I notice that no diehard Otago supporters who struggled to separate Otago from the franchise weren't complaining on St Patrick's Day when hundreds of fans went to the game in Wellington dressed in green and inadvertently supported the Highlanders. These are the narrow minded people who didn't want the indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium and selfishly think the Highlanders should wear the Otago colours when there are less than a handful of Otago players in the Highlanders squad.
I would like to state that the Highlanders are different to Otago and are separate entities. The Highlanders rely heavily on the draft, but officially represent the lower part of the country (Southland, Otago, North Otago). Southland has had far more players in the Highlanders than Otago in the last few seasons and the New Zealand franchises all dropped the reference to the area in the name of the teams years ago, so it is the Highlanders, Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues.
Finally, it must be said that Otago a few weeks ago was a laughing stock of New Zealand rugby, but now thanks to the new indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium, a very generous bailout from the New Zealand Rugby Union the local council and businesses and a rejuvenated Highlanders team, things are looking up in Otago. The Otago Rugby Football Union will survive and the separate entity which is the Highlanders is thriving at the top of the table. The influx of North Island based players and coach Jamie Joseph along with a few Otago players and a decent core of Southland players has created a leading Super Rugby franchise. This means that not only will Forsyth Barr Stadium be home to an ITM Cup team, but it could at some stage host a Super Rugby final. This all seemed unlikely a month ago, but there is still plenty of water to go under the bridge before then!
Can the Highlanders keep up there impressive record? Do you think that Otago deserved to be bailed out? Is Forsyth Barr Stadium still a waste of time? What do you think of the Highlanders green jerseys now?