by Roger Childs
The famous southern hemisphere rugby series has reached the sharp end, and within a few hours we find out whether the final will be played in Christchurch, Buenos Aires or Canberra. Unfortunately, the Wellington ‘Cake Tin’ is not in the running.
The quarter finals went according to the script and top four teams won at home. The first semi today sees the Jaguares playing at home in Argentina against the travelling Brumbies. The Australian side had had a mixed season, but when it comes to the finals the earlier record counts for nothing. They were impressive last week in their easy 38 -13 win over the Sharks, but will find the Jaguares, who have many international players, a much tougher proposition. The Brumbies have also had to travel thousands of kilometres and will not have many supporters in the crowd!
Back home the Hurricanes are up against it in Christchurch tonight. The Wellington franchise was well beaten by the Crusaders in the two matches earlier in the season. The defending champions also have the home advantage with the crowd behind them, and it is hard to see their well balanced, star studded side losing.
However, a few weeks ago in Suva they were thrashed by the Chiefs, so they are definitely beatable. But with the strong desire to reclaim the title on their home turf, in front of their adoring fans, a place in the finals is the likely outcome. Their biggest advantage over the Hurricanes is their tight five, and one would expect their scrummaging superiority to be a key factor in the result.
The Hurricanes nevertheless are capable of stepping up. Their backline is classy and in T.J. Perenara, the Barrett brothers and Ben Lam they have potential match winners. Led by their resurgent hooker Dane Coles and inspirational loosie, Ardie Savea, they have a fit and mobile forward pack. The return of All Black Vaea Fifita from suspension will strengthen the side and there will be no lack of motivation for the visitors.
A critical factor in both semi’s is for teams to avoid yellow cards. It is hard enough to win with 15 players on the field without losing one for ten minutes. Last week the Highlanders were in with a chance at 14-17, but an idiotic no-arms barge by Liam Squire gifted the match to the Crusaders. In Wellington, the Hurricanes also a lost a player for 10 minutes and had to dig deep to gain a narrow victory over the Bulls.
The semi’s should result in the home teams prevailing, but upsets are not out of the question.
Update: The Jaguares thumped the Brumbies 39-7 and the Crusaders defeated the Hurricanes 30-26. —Eds