Rugby: Back to back thrills

By Dylan Cleaver

The Hurricanes' Cory Jane-anchored, talent-laden back three will be up against a  Sitiveni Sivivatu-led Chiefs' backline. Photo / Getty Images
The Hurricanes' Cory Jane-anchored, talent-laden back three will be up against a Sitiveni Sivivatu-led Chiefs' backline. Photo / Getty Images

Hit the rewind button for a moment. There it is, May 1, 2010, Wellington. Tim Nanai-Williams, the rookie, busting the line leaving himself with only the fullback to beat. There's the fullback, Cory Jane; the All Black, the man whose mistakes over the course of a year can be counted on one hand.

There goes the rookie, jumping into the air. There goes the All Black into the pre-tackle brace. There goes the rookie, off his left foot. There's the All Black, faked out of his shoes. There's the rookie, dotting down before punching the air in delight.

"We had a talk after the game," Nanai-Williams said. "He was pretending to be angry, beating me up.

"He was like, 'Why did you do that to me on [national television] and the whole of the country saw it'. I was saying, 'Sorry, bro, it's a game of footy. I couldn't run straight at you so I had to make my way around'."

They were left with a long-term reminder of the occasion. As a desperation measure, Jane flung out a forlorn boot, which at best would have ended up with a yellow card and a penalty try.

As it was, respective sprigs met flesh. Jane ended up with stitches and Nanai-Williams with a gaping hole in his shin that, when healed, he was rather proud of.

"My mates would go, 'Ew, what's that?' I'd be like, 'That's my Cory Jane scar. Cool, eh'."

Not as popularly recalled from that game was Jane's nice try that assisted the Hurricanes to a 33-27 win.

Nearly a year on, Jane has forgiven the tyro, but he's not forgotten.

Mils Muliaina's back injury has given the two fullbacks an opportunity to renew acquaintances.

"Mils gives you experience and direction," Jane said. "But he's [Nanai-Williams] bloody good. He's a talent."

Muliaina, who fractured two vertebrae against the Rebels, might be missing and Hosea Gear will not be roaming the flanks for the Hurricanes, but the message might as well be same for both sides: kick the ball back to the opposition at your own peril.

The back threes of these teams are loaded with some of the most ambitious - and, just occasionally, misguided - runners in the country.

Jane anchors the Hurricanes back three that includes the most promising wing in the country in Julian Savea and Andre Taylor, the free-running Taranaki wing who has come back from emergency surgery to a ruptured bowel late last year.

In the Chiefs' corner, 43-test All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu is the key figure in a back three that includes Lelia Masaga and Nanai-Williams.

The Chiefs' struggles of late have been well documented, but the convincing 38-10 win over the Rebels showed the green shoots of recovery and at the heart of it was a back three that, even after the early departure of skipper and talisman Muliaina, had too much pace and power for the Melbourne side.

As for the Hurricanes, they have been left to stew in their juices after a first-up loss at home to the Highlanders.

"That was a terrible performance," Jane said. "We still feel it like a kick in the guts. It was a shocker."

What it has done is galvanise the team to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"If we go out there and play like that again, it's going to be a really long season."

And if they go out there and start kicking it down the throats of the Chiefs' back three, it's going to be a really long night.

"It's looks an exciting game," Jane said. "It's not just the back threes either, both sides love to run the ball.

"But you can't just keep running everything. That's when you become one-dimensional and easy to pick off."

Nanai-Williams and his mates will be waiting. Sivivatu is one of the game's great broken field runners and Masaga looked sharp against the Rebels, a 70m solo try putting an exclamation mark on his return to form.

So take it for granted, it won't be a game of glorified force-back, but it would be equally naive to think Westpac Stadium will be a no-kick zone.

"There will be kicks, but they'll have to be smart," Jane said. "Whether that's putting up bombs, or putting the ball on the ground, we'll have to see what's in front of us."

Jane and the Hurricanes can take comfort in the fact that the Chiefs face the same dilemma when putting the ball to boot.

- NZ Herald

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