Preview: Hurricanes vs Chiefs
It’s been a little less than a year since the last time these two teams met at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, that result going the Hurricanes’ way courtesy of Dane Coles after the hooter had gone – it took an incredible six minutes for the TMO to award the try. Both teams came away with a narrow victory in Round 13, but whereas the Chiefs looked rather dilapidated against the Force, the Hurricanes seemed to have the Cheetahs made for about 70 minutes in Bloemfontein – injury-enforced water boy Conrad Smith must have put something really special in the H2O he was serving.
Even though Conrad Smith claims to feel as fit as a fiddle, the knock to the head he suffered against the Bulls in Round 12 which rendered him unconscious for about 45 seconds, will keep him sidelined for another couple of weeks, only to possibly return for the match-up with the Brumbies. This effectively means that Victor Vito will again wear the captains armband this week as they attempt to trump the defending champions ahead of their bye – a job he did exceptionally well in their triumph over the Cheetahs.
The Canes’ season have been a somewhat hit-and-miss one, but when the backline is firing on all cylinders as they did last week, it could spell trouble for the Chiefs who seem to be slipping more and more tackles. By leaving Bloemfontein with 5 points in the bag, they managed to keep themselves in the hunt for a spot in the play-offs and another win would go a long way in aid of that cause.
They showed that their forwards are more than capable of applying the necessary pressure to create turn-over and front-foot ball; Jeremy Thrush lead the way for the tight-five as part-timers Jack Lam and Faifili Levave challenged for more game time with their impressive run-ons.
Barring the fact that they miss their industrious captain, and of course Cory Jane, the Hurricanes’ backline is shaping up nicely with the apparent return to form of fullback André Taylor, the ever present devastating abilities of Julian Savea on the wing and sharp attacking skills of their crafty scrumhalf TJ Perenara. If all goes to plan, this team could give the visitors a real run for their money.
Most Likely to Score for the Hurricanes: Julian Savea & TJ Perenara
With Gareth Anscombe now sidelined with a foot injury, the Waikato warriors’ midfield woes have reached a desperate point and the hunt is on to find a suitable back-up for near exhausted playmaker Aaron Cruden, who has played just about every minute of every game this season.
Despite having flirted with disaster over the last couple of weeks, the Chiefs have managed to scrape through and hold onto their position at the top of the New Zealand conference. However, they now face a daunting diet of Kiwi derbies with the Crusaders and Blues hot on their heels, so they’ll need to up the ante if they are to avoid a slide down the ladder.
Whilst the Canes forwards provided a good platform for their creative speedster, this has been an area of concern for the Chiefs and even though their workaholic second rower Brodie Retallick appears to be in great form, he needs to be backed up by the likes of Liam Messam and Sam Cane in a more physical approach.
They have loads of dangerous runners lurking around feeding off scraps, but if they are provided with clean ball and a bit more space, Lelia Masaga, Bundee Aki and Asaeli Tikoirotuma have the ability to rip apart the ordinary Hurricanes defense. They’ll also be looking to find his feet quickly and provide that elusive spark.
Most Likely to Score for the Chiefs: Bundee Aki & Ben Afeaki
This is a rather tough call to make for the opening match of Round 14 as it can easily go either way at the drop of a pin. A draw wouldn’t be a pleasing result for either team and there is a lot at stake for both – their performances will be fueled by desperation and desire and should make for an epic encounter, one I have a hunch will end in favour of the home side.
Gagga says Hurricanes by 4