James Blackwell (Petone) will play his 50th match for the Hurricanes when they take on the Blues in round two of the Super Rugby Pacific competition this Saturday in Dunedin.
- By Kevin McCarthy
Round one down and in a season like no other, it still feels like a season like every other.
In short, a first-game spanking by the Crusaders, and a long list of woulda-couldas. Nothing along the lines of a Canberra down trou, but a pervasive sense that the Hurricanes at this stage can’t ruthlessly sheet home when they do have advantages.
With the southerners bearing two yellow cards, the Canes could not turn that into something decisive. Instead, the second half threatened to turn into a rout, only salved by a stirring late comeback.
Yes, the two (or three) disallowed tries would rock any side, and indeed, there is no sign that this team lacks for fight. The Crusaders on the other hand were what they generally always are – efficient at taking chances and running the tempo of the games.
It seems so obvious on paper, but it’s that gap which other Super teams all struggle to bridge, which is why the Crusaders win so many darn titles. They seem to mutate slightly each year to evade everyone else – the ronas of rugby.
And as we now know, there is little room for slow starts in Super Rugby – you go from facing the champions in week one, to the serious contenders – the Blues – the next week. No more soft easing into the season, like a jolly jaunt to the high veldt.
On the positive side, I think we’re all going to enjoy watching the Hurricanes in 2022. There’s plenty to like about their style of play, some of the new and near new faces, and the way in which our marquee players – Jordie and Ardie – look to be firing already.
But can we just see that W column kick into life this week against the Blues?
Looking further down the track, it’s likely that the squad depth of everyone is going to be severely tested by Covid-19. I am sure that this week you, like everyone, will have started hearing of cases much closer to home or workplace and that tempo is going to accelerate pretty quick.
For all their extra presumed precautions, there’s no way this draw is going to unfold as planned without games being rescheduled because of outbreaks.
Moana Pasifika happen to have drawn the short straw, but there’s a fistful more to be drawn. So, say two months from now, expect teams to be fielding a few midweek sides to catch up on games. It is going to be draining to say the least and a survival of the fittest.
That’s assuming the trans-Tasman phase of the tournament even proves feasible. I think it may, but hey, the isolation rules keep on changing faster than even the rugby rule book.
Otherwise, we’ll default to home derbies followed by home derbies. Another quick dose of the Crusaders, anyone?
And finally one upside of Covid – just announced. The Bledisloe will be played over two tests this year, not three. Love you Aussies, but we play you way too much.
The Hurricanes team to play the Blues is:
1 Pouri Rakete-Stones
2 Asafo Aumua
3 Tyrel Lomax
4 James Blackwell (50th Cap)
5 Justin Sangster
6 Reed Prinsep
7 Blake Gibson *
8 Ardie Savea (c)
9 Jamie Booth
10 Jackson Garden-Bachop
11 Salesi Rayasi
12 Julian Savea
13 Bailyn Sullivan
14 Wes Goosen
15 Jordie Barrett
16. Jacob Devery
17. Xavier Numia
18. Ben May
19. Devan Flanders
20. Brayden Iose
21. Richard Judd
22. Ruben Love
23. Peter Umaga-Jensen
* Denotes Hurricanes debut