Last week any of four Kiwi teams were a possibility of finishing the season in the top spot. Surely though, not many thought the mathematical possibility in front of the Hurricanes was realistic. They now sit with guaranteed home games through the finals – all they have to do is keep winning. Easy!
The Sharks are the only team in the finals race guaranteed to play away for as long as they stay in the battle.
Home or away it’s knock out rugby and anything can happen.
All up in Wellington the Hurricanes have beaten the Sharks five times, drawn once and lost four. Since 2011 the game has always gone to the home team.
The Sharks have performed well when away from home in finals. In 2012 they travelled to Queensland to beat the Reds (ouch!). Then they travelled to Cape Town and beat the Stormers. Finally the flights caught up and they succumbed to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Hurricanes have a strong taste for finals football having made it through to the Final in 2015.
The two teams have met just once so far in 2016 in Durban. The Hurricanes had just come off an impressive win away against the Lions and let themselves relax on the next game. The Sharks punished their hubris with a 32 to 15 victory.
The Hurricanes have not lost since!
Importantly the Hurricanes Defense Coach, John Plumtree was previously Head Coach at the Sharks and has been reminding the team about their last performance.
Last week the Sharks defeated the Sunwolves with a B squad rotational policy. They won but it was less than convincing. The Hurricanes flattened the Crusaders with a convincing domination and are coming into the finals with a wet sail.
Momentum lies with the Hurricanes.
Springbok Pat Lambie has had a difficult year ending with a concussion in the last test against Ireland. SANZAAR refused an appeal to allow him to play in the finals as he has not played enough games for the Sharks this season. Director of Rugby Gary Gold has returned to his A squad which was arranged hastily into a travel group. Flights took time to arrange and they did not arrive in Wellington until midnight on Wednesday.
It’s a sobering thought but the Hurricanes were not at full strength last week. Proctor returns and the midfield is unshuffled – we can expect the ‘canes will be attacking a little wider. Loni Uhila replaces Reggie Goodes at LHP, necessitated by a concussion.
In the mean-time Hurricanes Go! has erupted on the streets of Wellington. It’s a location based augmented reality game where fans have been seen chasing down ‘canes players to receive family passes to the quarter final.
Be 1st to capture pic with Hurricanes in Wgtn to win family pass to QF, starts tmrw 10am #HurricanesGO #PokemonGO pic.twitter.com/hUG4sTFa1N
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) 19 July 2016
KEY MATCH UPS
Fly Half: Pat Lambie is deemed ineligible. Garth April in his first Super Rugby season made the Springbok ‘A’ team this year. He matches up to the experienced All Black, Beauden Barrett who is in scintillating form. The Hurricanes game plan should be better directed.
No 7: Ardie Savea has been groomed, spent time in 7’s in 2015, and was capped for the All Blacks this year. The workmanlike Tera Mtembu will need to be on his game.
Back Three: Willie le Roux rejoins JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo to take on James Marshall, Corey Jane and Jonathon Woodward. Both sides feature genuine threats from the back three.
The Hurricanes last loss in Durban is suggestive. The Sharks built on a “in-your-face” gritty defence that controlled the pace of the game by slowing down the Hurricane ball. The Sharks took four line outs against the throw and turned the ball over on seven more occasions than the Hurricanes. They conceded four less penalties. Another performance like that will result in a much tighter game than most are predicting.
The Hurricanes are on a roll with typically Kiwi play. Determined flat defence. Ability to break the line at first phase. And subsequent phases. Then intelligent kicking depending on where the opportunity is. They keep the opposition on their toes. Then back to the determined defence. As a proud Aussie it chokes me to admit that it is very attractive and effective rugby.
Sharks have it all to do and while they are always capable of an upset, this one is an uphill battle – Hurricanes Go! has at least another week to play. In fact, unless they defeat themselves I’d suggest that Hurricanes Go! will be around a little while yet.
Hurricanes by 15.
We’ve found our #caneforaday! They’ve searched all day and caught Nehe-mon! Congrats Naylan!! #hurricanesgo pic.twitter.com/1ziE4mJ2eo
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) 20 July 2016
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Loni Uhila . Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Julian Savea
Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claasens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stefan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Odwa Ndungane
Match: Hurricanes v Sharks @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Date: Saturday 23rd July 2016
Kick-Off: 19:35 Local 17:35 AEST 9:35 SAST
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 2: Paul Williams
TMO : Glenn Newman