Rugby: Captains in doubt for Hurricanes and Chiefs

By Kris Shannon

Captain Dane Coles of the Hurricanes leaves the field with an injury. Photo / Getty
Captain Dane Coles of the Hurricanes leaves the field with an injury. Photo / Getty

The stakes could hardly be higher but both the Hurricanes and the Chiefs might be missing their inspirational skippers for Saturday night's semifinal.

The two Kiwi sides romped to record wins over South African opposition in this weekend's quarter-finals, setting up the biggest New Zealand derby since last year's Super Rugby final.

But the victories came at a potential cost for both teams, with Dane Coles and Sam Cane facing a nervous few days to find out whether they will lead out their respective sides at Westpac Stadium.

The damage to Coles' rib cartilage seemed severe while Cane would have to pass concussion protocols to take his place, possibly denying an epic semifinal two of its titans.

While such a scenario would be a shame for the spectacle, neither the Hurricanes nor the Chiefs would be daunted by the setbacks, given each team have encountered a path filled with misfortune en route to the final four.

Yet the personal disappointment was another question, with Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd acknowledging he was "distraught" for Coles.

"It doesn't look terribly good," Boyd said after his charges became the first side to record a shutout in a Super Rugby playoff game. "We still haven't had an accurate diagnosis, but he looked pretty uncomfortable."

Coles, renowned for his toughness, appeared in agony as he hobbled down the tunnel early in the second spell. Having initially sat in an ambulance awaiting a hospital trip, Coles was instead shifted to a team car before heading home to manage pain both physical and emotional.

"When I spoke to our physio, they said it was really about pain and comfort," Boyd said. "These things can come right quickly or they can linger, so I think it's an absolute wait-and-see."

Super Rugby rookie Ricky Riccitelli loomed as the likely alternative at hooker, after replacing Coles in each of the Hurricanes' last three games, while the Chiefs were also drawing up contingency plans in case of Cane's absence.

The openside flanker failed to return for the second half as the Chiefs recorded their largest ever win over the Stormers, having suffered a head knock in the opening spell.

Cane received a couple of stitches from a collision coach Dave Rennie described as "minor", but the capricious nature of concussions meant the severity of the initial clash had little bearing on the co-captain's availability.

"He's going to have to go through protocols," Rennie said. "He was pretty clear and didn't have any symptoms post-game but we'll need to see how he scrubs up."

Exacerbating the issue was the Chiefs' travel plans, set to arrive in New Zealand early Tuesday morning before flying to Wellington later in the week.

The Chiefs could at least enjoy the luxury of a couple of quality replacements if Cane were ruled out. The Liam Messam eligibility saga might yet take another twist, able to again apply for dispensation if his side lost another loose forward, while Michael Leitch was nearing a return after breaking his thumb in May.

"He'll be really close," Rennie said of the No 8. "We'll be hopeful to get him back on the field. The timeline was really the final, but there's a chance he might come back earlier. I'll know a bit more once we get home."

There was also a piece of positive news for the Chiefs' depleted midfield stocks, a group dealt another blow when Stephen Donald was withdrawn with a shoulder injury against the Stormers.

Seta Tamanivalu was a "strong chance" to face the Hurricanes, according to Rennie, having recovered well from the knee strain he sustained in the final round.

- NZ Herald

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