Wellington has a 15% chance of rain but a 100% chance of an all-New Zealand thriller in the Super Rugby semifinal between the Chiefs and Hurricanes on Saturday. Buckle in because this one is going to be a battle to decide who will progress to the 2016 Super Rugby final! In Hurricanes territory they are saying this one is dedicated to original 1996 Hurricane and All Black great Jonah Lomu who passed away late last year.
Dave Rennie’s Chiefs have been the team to beat in Super Rugby over the last five years. When Chris Boyd took the reins of the Hurricanes at the beginning of last year they had never won the title or made the playoffs since 2008. In his first year he managed to lift the team to the top of the table and into the finals.
If last weekend’s quarterfinals are anything to go by both teams are in scintillating try-scoring form with the Hurricanes putting 41 unanswered points on the Sharks in Wellington and the Chiefs racking up 60 points against the Stormers in Capetown. Over the past seven games it’s the Hurricanes who have performed better with a 6-1 record compared to the Chiefs 4-3; two of the Chiefs’ losses coming against the champion Highlanders. Against New Zealand teams both have similar records with the Hurricanes at 5-1 edging out the Chiefs with 4-2 although in the New Zealand game that mattered – between the two teams – it was the it was the Chiefs who took the honours 28-27 in round 9 in Wellington. In the past 4 seasons honours have also been relatively even with the wins going slightly to the Chiefs at 4-3.
Sam Cane and Seta Tamanivalu are over their minor injuries and cleared to play for the Chiefs – Cane a head knock against the Stormers last weekend and Tamanivalu a sore knee from the week before against the Highlanders. Stephen Donald – a potential bench player, is unavailable due to a shoulder injury. The big news from the Hurricanes camp is that captain and All Black hooker Dane Coles is looking unlikely to play due to a rib cartilage injury. This is bad news for the Canes.
First Five: Bauden Barrett v Aaron Cruden Both All Black incumbants have very similar styles – they attack the line, have good field kicking games and excellent vision. Look for them to have a big imprint on the match.
Number 7: Ardie Savea v Sam Cane Again two all Black incumbants battling it out for their spot. The top two tacklers in Super Rugby are young, fit, and looking to fill Richie McCaws number 7 Jersey. Who will it be?
Number 9: TJ Perenara v Tawera Kerr-Barlow/Brad Webber TJ Perenara is playing the best rugby of his career and would have to be one of the form rugby players in New Zealand if not the world right now. He will get the chance to face off against both Kerr-Barlow and Webber as the Chiefs usually rotate their 9’s.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Vaea Fifita (4) Hurricanes A raw 24yo Tongan discovered in the ITM Cup last year and whose talent and skills have immediately transferred to Super Rugby. Fifita is tall, quick and has played most of his rugby at loose forward.
Willis Halaholo (12) Hurricanes The 25yo Halaholo could not find a spot in the Auckland ITM cup team so moved down to Southland in 2013 where he flourished. He is a hard hitting, straight running centre and has made the jersey his own after coming on as a replacement early in the season.
Damian McKenzie (15) Chiefs Still only 21 Damian McKenzie is both a Chief and an All Black (uncapped) full back. His statistics from this year’s competition show his attacking threat including: top try scorer, second top points scorer, in the top three for metres gained, defenders beaten, clean breaks, offloads and carries.
Both teams will look to attack. Due to the strong defences look for kicks to be extensively used in play to keep defences guessing. The Hurricanes may have the advantage over the ball out wide so look for the Chiefs to try and keep the ball closer to the ruck and defend their ball with greater numbers because the Hurricanes are masters at turning over the ball. The Chiefs may also look to kick long through Cruden to exploit the lineout without Dane Coles. The Hurricanes will look to attack wide of the ruck and tire the Chiefs out with quick ruck ball. Look for the Hurricanes to keep the ball in hand more than the Chiefs who will play for field position more.
The game could go either way. Home ground advantage means little in New Zealand. If the Chiefs can hold out the Hurricanes attack and kick well and accurately in play they will be able to build enough pressure to change the dynamic of the game. On the other hand the Hurricanes may prove too fast, too fit and if they can recycle quick ruck ball and get behind the Chiefs one or two times they have shown they know where the tryline is.
Hurricanes by 4
15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (vc), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (c)/Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila. Reserves: Riccitelli/Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Mike Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Vince Aso, Julian Savea.
(no decision made on Coles until closer to kick off)
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown. 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Crude, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird. 3 Atu Mol. 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames Reserves: Hika Elliot, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. Mitchell Graham, Lachlan Boshier, Michael Leitch, Brad Weber, Toni Pulu. Shaun Stevenson
Match: Hurricanes v Chiefs
Date: Saturday 30 July 2016
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-Off : 19:35 local 17:35 AEST 09:35 SAST
Referee: Angus Gardner
AR1: Glen Jackson
AR2: Paul Williams
TMO: Ben Skeen
Stats by Opta Sports