Super Rugby Final
Highlanders return as heroes
ESPN Staff
July 5, 2015
Thousands greet the victorious Highlanders at the airport © Getty Images

A big welcome is planned in Dunedin for the victorious Highlanders. The team arrived in Dunedin at about 10.50am on Sunday after their 21-14 upset of the Hurricanes in Saturday's Super Rugby final in Wellington. As many as 10,000 fans welcomed the victorious side at Dunedin International Airport on Sunday morning, with thousands of blue and orange supporters chanting "Otago" after an all-night party.

The plane was waved in by ground control using Highlanders' flags, and the players were greeted by thousands once they disembarked. The team, led by co-captains Nasi Manu and Ben Smith, appeared overwhelmed by the support.

The players were greeted by a kapa haka group and were then swarmed by children hoping for an autograph, high five or selfie with their heroes.

More than 1000 people at the fanzone in the Dunedin Town Hall celebrated on Saturday night and there was plenty of praise on social media as the Highlanders claimed their first Super Rugby title.

Malakai Fekitoa holds the Super Rugby trophy aloft upon arrival at Dunedin Airport, Dunedin, New Zealand, July 5, 2015
Fekitoa greets fans with the Super Rugby trophy © Getty Images

"Congratulations @Highlanders on your fantastic win tonight," Prime Minister John Key tweeted.

Actor Sam Neill tweeted: "GLORY GLORY HALLELUJAH ! #Highlanders you beauties ! Our underdogs no more. Gutsed it out ! Best game ever #HURvHIG Congratulations boys !"

Fans are expected to meet the players when they arrive and a parade is planned on Monday. Led by the Kaikorai Metro Brass band, the team will travel on the back of utility vehicles along Frederick Street and George Street to the Octagon, where they will be welcomed by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull about 12.15pm on Monday.

"This is a chance to be part of history and show the team how proud we are of them. This is the first time the Highlanders have won this competition and it means a huge amount to the team, the people of Otago and Southland and fans further afield," Mr Cull said.

The team had plenty of support. A butcher made blue-coloured sausages, fans booked out extra flights to Wellington and four fans who had match tickets but couldn't get a flight hired a plane. Co-captain Ben Smith says his team relished the fact pundits couldn't grasp what the players all knew.

"Right from the start we had something special," he said. "Along the way, some other people started to believe. I just think we've created something special this year and I've just enjoyed being part of it really."

Wellington police said there were about eight evictions from Westpac Stadium and two arrests for minor offences.

"The actual rugby crowd in the Wellington CBD were quite well behaved. There was obviously a lot of people in town," Senior Sergeant Andrzej Kowalczyk from Wellington District Command Centre said. "We had about 40 people through the cells but a lot of those arrests came from the Hutt Valley and the Kapiti-Mana area," he said.

Hurricanes 14-21 Highlanders (video available in Australia only)

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