Rugby: Decision on Coles will go to the wire

By Campbell Burnes

Hurricane's Captain Dane Coles leads from the front. Photo / Darren Taumata
Hurricane's Captain Dane Coles leads from the front. Photo / Darren Taumata

The Hurricanes have shown they can win in several ways since the June international window.

How will they fare in tonight's Super Rugby semifinal, having won ugly (Blues), tough (Waratahs), free-wheeling (Crusaders) and dominant across the park (Sharks)?

The only certainty is that the Chiefs will not run up the white flag late in the piece as the Sharks did in the capital during last weekend's quarter-final.

The major uncertainty is the state of captain Dane Coles' ribs, and coach Chris Boyd was prepared to give him up until 7.34pm, in other words, right up until kickoff, to give him the all-clear. That may be a subtle ploy to deflect any close scrutiny of replacement Ricky Riccitelli, but no doubt Dave Rennie and the Chiefs have studied up on all three prospective hookers, and won't be surprised if the world's best hooker runs out.

Boyd understandably refused to assume the favourites' tag for the semifinal, and indeed the competition, despite holding all the prime preparation cards and a mostly settled line-up.

"I think all four sides are capable of winning the Super Rugby title. They are all good sides, that are playing pretty well now. You would never have said it in weeks 1-2-3. But you would say that all four sides playing at the end of the competition, as the season has progressed, are the four best," says Boyd.

"The Chiefs are probably the most optimistic side in the competition, so our ability to scramble is going to be crucial. Our ability to kick smartly and defuse their counter-attack will be critical, and they'll be saying the same about us."

With a promising weather forecast, we will likely see much less kicking from Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara, who shared 23, mostly effective kicks, between them last weekend. The latter was superb against the Sharks with his sharpness on attack and, just as importantly, his clear decision-making, and he will be champing at the bit to unleash on the man - Tawera Kerr-Barlow - who usurped him as the second-string All Blacks halfback at Rugby World Cup.

Perenara made two breaks, two assists, scored a try and ran seven times for 85m against the Sharks, creating momentum from which the Hurricanes built their game.

"I think his game on the weekend was the best singular game that he's played for us. He's played well all season, built nicely, and since the June season he's played really well. I think he's taken on a real maturity around his role with Beauden in driving the ship around. Not only is he playing well, but he's organising well," says Boyd. "He's playing with a degree of confidence and a degree of assertiveness, and he knows for us to play well, he needs to play well."

The Hurricanes, funnily enough, will need to overturn history if they are to win and go on to clinch their maiden Super Rugby title. They have lost all six of their playoff games against New Zealand sides, including the 14-10 reverse to the Chiefs in Hamilton back in 2009.

- NZ Herald

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