Rugby: Hurricanes in box seat for playoffs

By Campbell Burnes

Callum Gibbins of the Hurricanes celebrates with team mates after scoring a try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Callum Gibbins of the Hurricanes celebrates with team mates after scoring a try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

From humble beginnings, the Hurricanes have won the New Zealand conference and are now in the box seat to host playoffs all the way to the August 6 Super Rugby final.

On opening night way back on February 26, the Hurricanes were becalmed, defeated 52-10 by the hot to trot Brumbies. They then fell to the Highlanders, and needed some good fortune to avoid going 0-3 after squeaking past the Blues at Eden Park.

But this side have rebuilt on those shaky early foundations to reel off 11 wins from their last 13 matches, and five Ws from their last five outings. Yet no performance was better than last night's 35-10 shutout of the Crusaders in Christchurch, in which their ailing scrum sprang to life in the second half and an unproven midfield combination looked as solid as, well, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. When you have men such as prop Loni Uhila and Callum Gibbins making telling impact off the pine, TJ Perenara at his opportunistic and niggly best, and Beauden Barrett in the form of his life, then maybe that display should not have been such a surprise. About the only negative was Julian Savea's handling - he dropped two cold and one difficult pass, and was subbed at the three-quarter mark.

There is a fair chance the Hurricanes could face the Crusaders again in the semifinals. For that to happen, they will need to beat the eighth-placed Sharks this Saturday in the capital and then the Crusaders will need to overturn the Lions in Johannesburg. The Highlanders and Chiefs could well do battle again should they win their quarter-finals.

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd is not thinking that far ahead. He is hoping to have Matt Proctor and Vince Aso fit again for midfield selection to alleviate the late withdrawal of Ngani Laumape with another groin twinge. But his pack have done him proud, missing just one tackle between them against the Crusaders. The loose trio of Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, and Brad Shields thoroughly outplayed their vaunted Crusader counterparts.

"The rugby gods have been on our side this weekend, so we are pretty happy... we didn't expect all the results to go our way," said captain Dane Coles, adding that they had pushed airline protocol watching the Jaguares-Lions game in-flight on their phones until the dying throes. That would have been a happy plane at around 11.20am this morning.

The Sharks were the last side to beat the Hurricanes, 32-15 in Durban on May 8, but the form guide looks very different now.

"We got embarrassed last time and let ourselves down, so we have plenty of motivation to right that wrong," says Coles.

- NZ Herald

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