Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Hurricanes' aggression could rattle Crusaders

Vaea Fifita of the Hurricanes is congratulated on his try by teammates Ardie Savea, Reggie Goodes, Julian Savea and Michael Fatialofa. Photo / Getty Images.
Vaea Fifita of the Hurricanes is congratulated on his try by teammates Ardie Savea, Reggie Goodes, Julian Savea and Michael Fatialofa. Photo / Getty Images.

There was off-the-ball pushing and a suspicion of a foot trip. There was blood streaming from first-five Bernard Foley's face after he was grabbed in a tackle and constant attempts to physically and mentally undermine halfback Nick Phipps.

The Hurricanes tread a fine line against the Waratahs in Sydney with their aggression and willingness to goad their opponents in their 28-17 victory in Sydney at the weekend, and similar tactics against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday could rattle a team who have lost to only New Zealand opposition this season.

Chris Boyd's team need to be wary that some of their actions to which New Zealand referee Chris Pollock, in his final Super Rugby match, turned a blind eye, might not be acceptable to another official. The pushing of Phipps over the sideline by wing Julian Savea was deemed okay despite it appearing to be an attempt to intimidate, and it probably reached the threshold of at least a warning.

Instead, no action was taken, and the niggle continued.

Pollock has form here this season - he was similarly nonchalant about some of the Highlanders' off-the-ball tactics which threatened to ignite into violence during the southerners' victory over the Crusaders in Dunedin - and Todd Blackadder's men won't be in the mood to take a step backwards in a match which will define their playoffs.

A defeat could send them to a quarter-final against the Stormers in Cape Town. Should they win that, they face a trip back to New Zealand and a possible re-match against the Hurricanes in Wellington, the travel factor adding to the difficulty of the assignment.

And yet, the Hurricanes have little choice but to continue with their aggressive intent, especially on defence. A rushing, connected, and robust defence by the Chiefs - at AMI Stadium and in Suva, plus the Highlanders - confounded the Crusaders, and Boyd's men, who did well to limit the danger posed by Waratahs fullback Israel Folau, should use those tactics as a blueprint.

The Crusaders were reasonably clinical in scoring 13 tries against the Rebels which boosted their points differential, but the constant line-breaking in the one-sided match probably did little else in preparation for last year's beaten finalists.

Blackadder will be hoping for good news on Owen Franks' back after the All Blacks tighthead prop left the field after 30 minutes as a precaution because the scrum was less powerful in his absence, but the game did mark the return of experienced midfielder Ryan Crotty, who scored two tries and will be crucial against the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes, a side containing eight past or present All Blacks, won't fear or respect the Crusaders as much as the injury-hit Rebels did. They will also tackle far better and provide a far greater offensive threat.

They will attempt to bully and harass, and the Crusaders will need to find ways to counter that - for the sake of their confidence in the playoffs as well as possibly preventing a trip to the Republic which would severely dent their chances in Blackadder's final year with the franchise.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 30 Apr 2017 02:30:02 Processing Time: 77ms