Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Hurricanes stick to game plan

Willis Halaholo of the Hurricanes makes a break during the Super Rugby Quarterfinal match between the Hurricanes and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images
Willis Halaholo of the Hurricanes makes a break during the Super Rugby Quarterfinal match between the Hurricanes and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images

Before the Hurricanes quarter-final over the Sharks, I wrote that there was a question mark about the New Zealand conference leaders' mentality, and whether they could maintain their standards and performances after faltering in the past.

They certainly rose to the challenge at the Cake Tin in the worst conditions I have seen. They were very difficult and needed to be expertly managed, which halfback TJ Perenara and first five-eighths Beauden Barrett did superbly.

They had the right game plan - they wanted to play for territory, which they did to a degree, but they didn't kick the cover off the ball.

There was variation in the kicking game between Perenara and Barrett, and they literally kept the Sharks on the run the whole game. The Sharks had few ideas and no answer to the Hurricanes' line speed on defence which had troubled the Crusaders so much the week before.

The visitors resorted to one-off runners and aimless kicking and they looked lost. Coach Gary Gold said afterwards that they were completely naive in the second half - bereft of ideas - and I concur. The only negative aspect was Dane Coles' rib injury and I don't expect him to be fit to play in the semifinal against the Chiefs next weekend. He looked in a massive amount of pain, was struggling to walk, and he won't need any contact any time soon.

The Hurricanes deserve their home semifinal. Probably the unluckiest team are the Highlanders, who have to travel to Johannesburg to play the Lions after beating the Brumbies in Canberra. Jamie Joseph's men will face a team who dismantled the Crusaders. The Crusaders' best chance was to start the game well and sow a seed of doubt - they had won at Ellis Park already this season, and have won many away playoff matches. Early points would have done that, but it didn't happen. They lost the opening exchanges, fell off tackles and couldn't handle the speed with which Lions came at them.

Even when they got points, they struggled to break down the Lions defence. Wing Johnny McNicholl looked the most likely for the visitors, but they weren't the best team at Ellis Park.

It's disappointing to see a team that prides itself on its defence not come up to scratch in the past fortnight. I feel for the coaching staff because defensive systems can be coached, but the desire to make one-off tackles can't be. That's not the attitude you would expect from the Crusaders and that's what troubled me most as a former Crusaders player.

I picked the Chiefs to beat the Stormers and they didn't let me down, although I also picked the Crusaders, which shows I'm no expert. I disagree with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, they weren't that far away from the Highlanders last week, and that's why I expected the Stormers to be shellshocked by the pace of the game.

Could the Stormers handle the intensity that the New Zealand conference has been played at? No, they were blown off the park. Well done to the Chiefs. They deserve their opportunity to get back to New Zealand and launch an assault on the Hurricanes. The match should be a humdinger.

The other one should be, too. The Lions deserve to host a semifinal, but had they fielded a stronger team against the Jaguares, they probably would have had the potential to host a final. I still think they messed up there. They are good but I don't think they can win in Wellington should the Hurricanes make the final. But who knows, they have defied the odds already this season.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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