Is it too early to call a side’s hopes for the season ‘on the line’ in round one? Probably, but this game will tell a fair bit about how the rest of the season will pan out for both of them.
Each team has had major overhauls during the off-season and would approach this game with a fair degree of nervousness considering the burden of expectation that both will carry this year.
Key to the ‘Tahs chances in this game will be the ability to get the ball quickly to the outside backs and let them work the under-strength ‘Canes over. Wellington have named Hosea Gear and Piri Weepu out of position at no’s 12 and 10 respectively, this to me speaks volumes about a potential lack of cohesion in the back-line.
Although one is at no 12 and the other at 13, Timana Tahu v Ma’a Nonu will be a key battle. I expect the ‘Tahs to give Timtam plenty of space in which to try and expose Nonu’s lack of lateral movement in defence and general lack of combination with Gear. On the flip-side, Timtam is no rocket scientist in defence either – despite during the off-season passing the only exam he has ever sat, that of rugby theory – I would think the ‘Canes have roughly the same plan for him. They will send plenty of decoy runners at Timtam, who when faced with defensive choices in recent times, has generally made the wrong one.
Kurtley Beale will need a strong performance to get his confidence back after spending the summer kicking stones and eating KFC. The world lay at Beale’s feet at the end of last Super 14 season, until he broke one of them that is, and he now finds himself the third choice no. 10 behind Gits and Cooper at the national level. If Beale can get things on track early then Timtam, Rob Horne, Lote, Lachie Turner et al should be too much for the ‘Canes to handle.
The forward battle will be a fairly even one, but if the ‘Tahs front row suffers an injury or two the reserves are rookies, as Freir looks set to be ruled out, and this could be problematic. Even with the loss of Vickerman, Lyons and Elsom, the ‘Tahs piggies look surprising good and should shade the ‘Canes who were victims of a similar flight of quality at last season’s end.
Wellington are on the second line of betting to win the Super 14, I can’t see why as I don’t think they look like a settled or cohesive unit. I expect it to be tight early however the ‘Canes over reliance on Nonu and Rodney So’oialo, plus injuries to a few prized players, should mean the ‘Tahs will be able to see off the threat and sneak away with the game in the last 20 minutes.
Cote says ‘Tahs by 6.
Hurricanes v Waratahs
Venue:Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick off: Saturday 14 February, 7.35pm (local), 5.35pm AEST
Referee: Stuart Dickinson
Zac Guildford, Andre Taylor, Jason Kawau, Tamati Ellison, David Smith, Willie Ripia, Alby Mathewson, Victor Vito, Scott Waldrom, Karl Lowe, Bryn Evans, Api Naikatini, Tim Fairbrother, Dane Coles, John Schwalger. Replacements: Ged Robinson, Neemia Tialata, Jason Eaton, Ma’a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Cory Jane, Nick Crosswell, Hosea Gear, Faifili Levave, Jacob Ellison.
Sam Norton-Knight, Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Timana Tahu, Lote Tuqiri, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Scott Fava, Phil Waugh, Ben Mowen, Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm, AL Baxter, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Adam Freier/Damien Fitzpatrick, Jeremy Tilse/Dan Palmer, Chris Thomson, Wycliff Palu, Brett Sheehan, Tom Carter, Daniel Halangahu.