Jamie Joseph completed one of the great coaching redemption stories when his Highlanders clinched their first Super Rugby crown.
After five years at the helm, Joseph took a team lacking star power to one of the most unexpected titles in the competition’s history with a 21-14 final upset of the Hurricanes.
It is a personal triumph for the former All Black who was persona non grata in the south when his team slumped to second-last in 2013. They were lucky to avoid the wooden spoon after notching 13 losses.
Many believed Joseph was also fortunate to keep his job after his tactic to lure a host of big-name All Blacks backfired spectacularly.
Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn and Tony Woodcock came on board but the Highlanders failed to gel.
It was the opposite this season, most notably in the play-offs when they toppled the heavyweight Chiefs, Waratahs and Hurricanes.
“In hindsight, I made some calls two years ago that I thought were going to be better for the Highlanders and clearly they weren’t,” Joseph said.
“This year there was real resolve within our team, real honesty, and you saw that tonight.”
Joseph pointed out he was overdue a title after a career littered by near misses.
As a player, he was part of an Otago team who came close to winning the Ranfurly Shield and NPC titles.
“We just about did a lot of things but didn’t quite do it. And we then just about won the World Cup (in 1995) but we lost that as well.
“I think I’m a better coach.”
Joseph had words of consolation for the Hurricanes, having a close connection with many at the franchise after a long association with their NPC base union Wellington.
In eight years as assistant or head coach, Wellington reached five NPC finals under Joseph and lost them all.
“I’ve got a lot of empathy for the team and the coaching staff,” he said.
“Sport’s unfair isn’t it?”