- By Kevin McCarthy
Playing the Crusaders at home would always be seen as a bell weather game in any season.
Strangely that’s where we’re at in the last round of Super Rugby.
But also, there’s an argument that there isn’t much resting on this game.
Of course, there’s always something resting on a game against the Crusaders – for so long and continuing one suspects, they are the benchmark against which all other New Zealand teams measure themselves.
Fourteen rounds ago the Chiefs laid down a marker – though we didn’t know it at the time – that they would seriously be challengers in the 2023 season to that crown.
So, the Hurricanes have been tracking along this year, dancing up and down between 2nd and 4th and 5th in the league.
Now they seem pretty set on nailing down that fifth spot – one outside the home quarter finals and kind of where they’ve always threatened to be for a number of seasons now.
By 11:30 tonight, The Hurricanes will know what their fate will be regarding the quarterfinal opponent.
They will either be playing away against the Blues in a reprise of the last round or will once again make the trek to sunny Canberra to face the Brumbies.
The Blues are I guess the most likely to drop that final round game as they face the Highlanders who are in eighth position and once again desperately trying to make the play offs.
It’s a precarious position for the Highlanders because Fijian Drua and the Force who are both playing at home are still very much in contention.
It’ll be intriguing to see whether the Chiefs drop their final game as they’re assured of top place anyway and have predictably stripped out 11 first teamers from the side.
I think the final washup will see the Blues in third, the Brumbies in fourth.
It would be pretty unbelievable were the Canberra side to drop their match against the traditionally execrable Melbourne rebels.
That of course is the only way for the Hurricanes – assuming of course they beat the Crusaders on Saturday night – to sneak into the top 4 at the last gasp. How exciting would that be – well don’t get your hopes up!
Still if the Brumbies do drop the game then the door will be open, and the Hurricanes would only have to beat the Crusaders – always a simple thing.
So, what is really resting on that last game for the Canes on Saturday night is probably the dreaded momentum word.
Certainly, showing that they can go toe to toe with the Crusaders – and a fillip ahead of finals footy – and it’s Dane Coles likely last match ever in Wellington – Come on.
Beat the Crusaders and why not beat the Brumbies in the quarters.
Hope as they say springs eternal.
Next season inevitably we will have a new coach and now we know who it is – Clark Laidlaw.
He is of course not unknown to the Hurricanes, having been assistant in the magnificent 2015 title run, tragically bookended by the losing final against the pesky Highlanders.
Laidlaw’s most recent CV is as New Zealand Sevens coach, where he’s been on something of a restoration job, capped with a world title.
So, one thing we can be sure of is that this will be a well-conditioned 2024 hurricane side.
What else he brings to the table will be for us to discover.
Quite frankly his key task at the moment is to beat the Australian under 20 side this weekend.
They are hugely cock a hoop after the victory recently over the New Zealand under-20s.
If you’ve seen any of the commentary across the ditch you’ll see that this one win is viewed as guaranteeing Bledisloe cup glory a few years down the track.
Who’s to say they’re not right,
Hurricanes to take on the Crusaders:
1. Tevita Mafileo
2. Dane Coles
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. James Blackwell
5. Caleb Delany
6. Devan Flanders
7. Du’Plessis Kirifi
8. Ardie Savea ©
9. Cam Roigard
10. Brett Cameron
11. Kini Naholo
12. Jordie Barrett
13. Billy Proctor
14. Daniel Sinkinson
15. Josh Moorby
16. Jacob Devery
17. Pouri Rakete-Stones
18. Owen Franks
19. Justin Sangster
20. Brayden Iose
21. Jamie Booth
22. Ruben Love
23. Bailyn Sullivan
Unavailable for selection: Tyler Laubscher, Reed Prinsep, TJ Perenara, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Salesi Rayasi, Julian Savea
Unavailable due to New Zealand under-20s commitments: Siale Lauaki, Peter Lakai, Cooper Flanders, Jordi Viljoen, Hunter Morrison, Harry Godfrey
The New Zealand U20s play the Junior Wallabies in the first match, kick-off 4.30pm.
Their team is below: