The Hurricanes have all the necessary firepower to blitz the Brumbies in what should be a one-sided quarter-final in Canberra on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Canes were the biggest winners from last weekend’s final round of conference stage action, with their win over the Crusaders ensuring they avoided a tiresome trip to Cape Town, while instead facing the weakest quarter-final opponent.
The Brumbies may be hosting the quarter-final, but bear in mind that they have won half the number of games that the Canes have (six to 12), while the New Zealand side has scored nearly double the number of points (596 to 315).
What will serve in the Brumbies’ favour is the fact they were able to rest a host of frontline players against the Chiefs last weekend, and a near full-strength side should be fairly rejuvenated on their home turf.
By contrast, the Canes expended plenty of energy as they battled back to claim a hard-fought win over the Crusaders, but that result would have also instilled the reigning champs with plenty of belief that they can go on to defend their title.
The Canes remain one of the most lethal teams in the competition, and are ranked first for points scored, tries recorded and clean breaks, while they have scored a whopping 37 tries from first phase.
The Brumbies have been solid at the set pieces and have conceded the fewest clean breaks per game of any team (6.1), but the Canes are a side that applies relentless pressure through high-paced ball-in-in hand play, while their linespeed on defence remains a cut above the rest.
In addition, the Canes also employ a well-balanced kicking game (they are ranked fourth with 23.4 kicks out of hand on average per game), and the return of Beauden Barrett will certainly bolster this aspect of their play.
Although the nature of the occasion might enable the Brumbies to hold their own in the early exchanges, the hosts are ultimately unlikely to match the Hurricanes’ intensity for the full 80 minutes.
Stats and facts
- The Brumbies have won five of their last seven games against the Hurricanes, although their two defeats in that run came in their last three meetings.
- This will be the third playoff meeting between these teams, with the spoils currently split at one win apiece.
- The Brumbies won six playoff games in a row on home soil before losing 15-9 against the Highlanders in 2016.
- The Hurricanes (14.5) have made the most clean breaks per game of any team so far this season, while the Brumbies (6.1) have conceded the fewest per game.
- The Hurricanes boast the two top try-scorers in Super Rugby this season in Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape (14 tries each), while no player has assisted more tries than halfback duo, Beauden Barrett (13) and TJ Perenara (11).
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott,3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Cory Jane.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani,12 Andrew Smith,11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Christian Leali'ifano.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images