CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to the Super Rugby quarter-final in Wellington on Friday.
HURRICANES vs CHIEFS, Wellington, Friday 9:35am
Let’s not dwell on the farcical fact that these two teams are meeting at this stage of the playoffs despite finishing the regular season with more points than the higher-placed Lions and Waratahs.
Instead, let’s look forward to what could be the most compelling clash of the quarter-final round. Last weekend, Super Rugby fans were able to enjoy a little appetiser when these two sides met in their final match of the round-robin stage, with the Chiefs emerging as 28-24 victors.
Although the Hurricanes are at home this time around, and should be more motivated than last Friday, the Chiefs will have been buoyed by the recent memories of racing out to a 21-0 lead in Hamilton.
At that point, it looked as if the Chiefs may very well finish with the necessary points difference to claim quarter-final hosting rights, but the Hurricanes also underlined their class by the manner in which they battled back in the second half.
It was during this period that the Hurricanes’ dangerous backs began to establish a foothold in proceedings, which should have sent out warning signs to the Chiefs ahead of Friday’s rematch.
As it is, powerful winger Ben Lam finds himself as the only uncapped international player in a Hurricanes backline filled with All Blacks – including influential Barrett brothers, Jordie and Beauden.
The Chiefs’ backline has been boosted by the return of Damian McKenzie, but they will know that it’s among the forwards where they could hold an edge as Liam Messam and Sam Cane bolster the back row, while Brodie Retallick remains the premier lock in world rugby.
In this regard, it’s notable that the Chiefs are ranked first in terms of their per-game scrum success rate (95%), while this season they have scored a whopping 40 tries within three phases of play.
However, it can’t be overlooked that the Hurricanes have conceded just 43 tries all year (ranked second only to the Crusaders), and they will undoubtedly aim to suffocate the Chiefs through their efficient linespeed on defence.
The Hurricanes have also won nine of their last 10 games when hosting New Zealand opposition, and their home-ground advantage will likely make them marginal favourites in what should be a cracker of a quarter-final.
Stats and facts
- The Chiefs have won four of their last six games against the Hurricanes, including a 28-24 victory when they met just last weekend.
- The Hurricanes have won 21 of their last 22 games played on home turf, including their last nine on the bounce.
- The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 10 games when hosting New Zealand sides, although their one defeat in that run came against the Chiefs last season.
- The Chiefs (9.1) and Hurricanes (9.4) have conceded the fewest clean breaks per game of any teams this season.
- Only Akira Ioane (74) has beaten more defenders this campaign than Chiefs duo Solomon Alaimalo (64) and Damian McKenzie (62).
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Brad Shields/Reed Prinsep, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep/Sam Henwood, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen/Jonah Lowe.
Chiefs – 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (c), 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitch Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images