Highlanders’ final hero Elliot Dixon has his faith restored in television match officials after the biggest call of the Super Rugby season fell his team’s way.
Dixon’s rampaging try and Lima Sopoaga’s sideline conversion completed the last act of the first half and proved the most vital of the 21-14 win over the Hurricanes.
With a 13-5 buffer at the break, the Highlanders held firm against the hosts’ second-half onslaught to clinch their maiden title in a sizeable upset.
At the heart of their defensive effort was man of the match Dixon, the uncapped Southland flanker who unleashed the best game of his career on the big stage.
He made 13 tackles and was a constant physical presence, but it was his contentious try that will be the abiding memory.
A powerful burst ended with the 25-year-old stretching out and grounding the ball on the foot of Hurricanes wing Nehe Milner-Skudder before it spilled loose.
After an interminable wait, TMO Ben Skeen ruled the ball had been forced on the ground and the boot concurrently.
Dixon says his anguished face straight after scoring was because he has been stung more than once this season on try replays.
“The TMO hasn’t been on my side this whole year so I thought it might not go my way,” he said.
“I was 50-50. I thought I felt the boot and grass at the same time.”
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd later disputed the ruling, which he said came at a vital time momentum-wise.
Dixon was part of forward pack that doesn’t feature a single All Black but has stood tall in the face of dismissive critics.
“The last 12 weeks, maybe 16 weeks, we’ve been underdogs so we weren’t too unfamiliar with that,” he said.
“We knew it was the last game of the season. We knew that after this we can lax out and do whatever we wanted.
“And it was Nasi Manu’s last game – he’s been inspirational for us.”
Coach Jamie Joseph reserved praise for Edinburgh-bound No.8 Manu, who played with tape over his right eye to keep it open following an injury in the semi-finals.
He said the leadership of co-captains Manu and fullback Ben Smith was inspirational over the second half of a season they spent mostly on the road.
“Who cares about the travel? If you start talking about travel or fatigue, you get tired,” Joseph said.
“We don’t do that in our team. Bender (Smith) and Nasi just drove everything from the front.”