- By Kevin McCarthy
As you’ll know, the season probably ends this weekend in Christchurch. On probabilities, the Crusaders will be too good for the Hurricanes.
But of course probabilities aren’t certainties.
The probabilities are built on what makes the Crusaders so difficult to beat, particularly at home – a world class pack, a world class first-five, and a backline drilled to take their chances. They usually defend well, and usually impose their game plan.
The Hurricanes could maybe match two of those areas consistently – at first-five and in the backs.
But it seems to me that the most glaring deficiency is in imposing themselves.
It seems like a recurring nightmare, but nearly all recent encounters have been over by about the 30 minute mark, at which point the Hurricanes will have coughed up too many points and will be chasing the game.
Yet the Canes have often seemed the authors of their own misfortune at that point – spilled passes, poor options, penalties. No team has been more ruthless than the Crusaders in converting a penalty around halfway into a resulting lineout drive and try – or some variation hence.
So in theory, if the Canes take better options, avoid penalties, and don’t drop the ball, they will be in the game. Well, yes, and that would be good if its achievable, the opposition unfortunately having a say in this as well.
But it would certainly be novel for the Canes if they could take the match deep and let pressure be an ally, not an enemy, in the last 20. There is no great evidence that the Crusaders cannot be rattled; we’ve seen it this season from time to time. Our forwards won’t dominate, but then they don’t need to for 80 minutes to give us a chance.
So how do the Canes do that? Well, there’s the rub. This isn’t a side that can comfortably slot into 10-man rugby mode and leave the backs hanging. And part of staying in the game will be landing some blows regularly while defending tenaciously.
So judicious attack needs to be in the mix of course, without taking crazy risks.
If the side instead goes out playing like it has to blow away the Crusaders in the first 15, then I predict more misery around the 30 minute mark.
Given that the Canes this season have shown a ton of courage in closing out tight games, often under the pump, they owe it to themselves to once again be in that position with 10 to go in Christchurch.
As for the other semi-final, it’s hard not to go past the Jaguares over the Brumbies. They will certainly deserve a crack at the final after an impressive season.
And wouldn’t that be a fun rematch for the Hurricanes? Climbing on board a flight to South America and trying to make history. A bit more exciting than flying to Canberra.
We’ve just got to get those troublesome Crusaders back in their box.
If you’re in to strange omens, I’ve got one for you from sunny Vanuatu. Actually its winter here and temperatures plunge to around 25C.
A lot of locals have been fruit picking in NZ and come back with sports gear. This week I spotted a bloke in a very faded Hurricanes jersey.
That was not the omen. What was strange was he had a utensil, a fork no less, knotted into the back of his hair.
I don’t know why you’d do that, unless you wanting to eat steak and cruel experience taught you there were only spoons on offer.
So is it an omen? Or just a fork. Does the fork represent possibility for the Canes, or that they’re going to get skewered. Or forked.
Life is complicated over here. I wish you well as fans all around the world – this is big one, and let’s enjoy it.
Halfback TJ Perenara will become the most capped Hurricanes player when he starts in the Investec Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night.
Perenara will go ahead of former Hurricanes team-mates Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith when he makes his 127th appearance, eight seasons after he made his debut against the Stormers in Cape Town.
Since then the 27-year-old has gone on to score 53 tries, including five in 2019, for the Hurricanes, second only to the great Christian Cullen.
He will again partner fellow centurion Beauden Barrett in the inside halves, the 101st time they will combine in those positions.
The Hurricanes squad to face the Crusaders in the semi-final is is:
15 Jordie Barrett
14 Salesi Rayasi
13 Peter Umaga-Jensen
12 Ngani Laumape
11 Ben Lam
10 Beauden Barrett
9 TJ Perenara
8 Gareth Evans
7 Ardie Savea
6 Reed Prinsep
5 Isaia Walker-Leawere
4 James Blackwell
3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen
2 Dane Coles (c)
1 Toby Smith
16 Asafo Aumua
17 Xavier Numia
18 Ben May
19 Kane Le’aupepe
20 Vaea Fifita
21 Richard Judd
22 James Marshall
23 Jonah Lowe