Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturday’s first Super Rugby semi-final being contested between the Hurricanes and Chiefs at Westpac Stadium.
This could prove to be one of the greatest Super Rugby semi-finals to ever take place. Not only is the game being played at the marvellous ‘Cake Tin’ - which has a match day atmosphere that cannot be rivalled by any modern stadium on the planet - but it also pits the best of the best All Blacks against each other.
So will Beauden Barrett and the Hurricanes secure a home final or will it be Aaron Cruden and the free-scoring Chiefs who advance to the final? Let’s see if we can find out.
Hurricanes v Chiefs | Saturday 30 July | Westpac Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 11/20 | Draw 22/1 | Chiefs 15/10
Hurricanes (-4.5) 9/10 | Chiefs (+4.5) 9/10
Hurricanes 5/10 | Chiefs 31/20
Okay, so the Sharks were extremely undercooked last week, but the manner in which the ‘Canes annihilated them, in adverse conditions, really impressed me. We all know how good a player Beuaden Barrett is but the way in which he and halfback partner TJ Perrenara took the game by the scruff of the neck would have given All Black coach Steve Hansen a lot of food for thought.
The pair put in virtuoso tactical kicking displays; finding space in behind the Sharks' defensive line while also dropping the ball short of the Natalians back three. This tactic paid off big time as the Sharks were unable to launch any counterattack worth noting.
This week will be a totally different test for both Barrett and Perenara as they are coming up against a much stronger halfback pairing. Barrett, in particular, is going to have to produce another blinder. The Hurricanes pivot is coming up against his rival for the All Black number 10 jersey, so I expect him to be highly motivated for this one.
It wasn’t only the 'Canes halfback pairing that were instrumental in their 41-0 dismantling of the Sharks. Loose forwards Brad Shields and Ardie Savea were in immaculate touch, with the former putting the cherry on the cake for the Hurricanes with an injury time try.
Chris Boyd is going to need his loose forwards to fire again this week as they are coming up against a pack that contains workaholic flanker and captain, Sam Cane. The All Black incumbent suffered a concussion against the Stormers but has been declared fit for Saturday having past concussion tests earlier in the week.
Conversely, the Hurricanes may be without there skipper Dane Coles who suffered a fractured rib during the final twenty minutes against the Sharks. While there is talk of Coles playing with a rib padding, I’m not sure that would be enough for him to get through an entire 80 minutes. This is a hooker we are talking about, and to try and scrum with a fractured rib would be complete agony.
If Coles fails to make the starting XV, his place will be taken by young gun Ricky Riccitelli. The Durban-born youngster has put in some lively cameo displays but Coles’ experience and pinpoint line out throwing will be sorely missed.
The Hurricanes may have put a monstrous score on the board against the Sharks last week but I was still more impressed with the Chiefs' 60-21 victory over the Stormers at Newlands. Dave Rennie’s men were in scintillating, running in eight tries while tearing the much-hyped Stormers set piece apart.
Most of the Newlands crowd would have left the ground cursing the brilliance of Aaron Cruden, Damian McKenzie, and James Low. I personally thought it was the Chiefs tight five that won them the game.
With poor weather being forecast for last week’s game, I was a bit reluctant to tip the Chiefs to clear the handicap as I thought the game might become a bit of a war of attrition between the two forward packs which I fancied the Stormers and their marvellous second row to win. How wrong I was. The Chiefs pack fronted up magnificently with locks Brodie Rettalick and Dominic Bird getting the better of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzibeth.
The Chiefs' locking combination were well supported by the front rowers who obliterated their opposite numbers. So emphatic was their performance, that they forced Robbie Fleck to change his whole front row just after half time.
The Chiefs will be looking to repeat the trick this weekend although they will have to do it against a Hurricanes front row that features Tongan sensation Loni Uhila otherwise known as ‘The Togan Bear’. The burly prop's rise to prominence has been astounding. He played second fiddle for the majority of the season but he’s seen his stock rise exponentially since impressing against the Crusaders in the final week of the regular season.
The big man is likely to play another prominent role this weekend, and every member of the infamous front row club would love to see cross the whitewash as he did against the Sharks last time out.
The Stats That Matter
Both sides have enjoyed free-scoring seasons with the Hurricanes racking up a staggering 499 points and the Chiefs going even better with a points for total of 551.
Both sides have leaked points this season, however, with the Hurricanes conceding 314 points and the Chiefs conceding 362 points in the 15 matches they’ve played thus far.
Both teams goal kickers come into this one with kicking success rates in excess of 68 percent, which can be considered a decent mark with the poor weather that has hit New Zealand during the past month or so.
Chiefs' kicking machine Damian McKenzie has a 70.9 percent success rate while Beauden Barrett has a slightly low percentile of 69.1
The two sides met earlier this year with the Chiefs narrowly edging out the Canes by a solitary point out in Wellington.
The Hurricanes have been involved in seven semi-finals but have only advanced to the final on two occasions. The Chiefs have won three out of the four semi-final fixtures they have been involved in.
Last Five Head To Head Results
2016 Hurricanes 27-28 Chiefs (Hurricanes Home)
2015 Chiefs 13-21 Hurricanes (Chiefs Home)
2015 Hurricanes 22-18 Chiefs (Hurricanes Home)
2014 Chiefs 24-16 Hurricanes (Chiefs Home)
2014 Hurricanes 45-8 Chiefs (Hurricanes Home)
Verdict: Chiefs 15/10
I really do like the Hurricanes but they are serial choke artists – just take a look at their performance in last year’s final. It’s not a popular call among the pundits but my money is on the Chiefs winning this one.