Playoff to ensure ‘lone’ New Zealand Super Rugby finalist

0
Playoff to ensure 'lone' New Zealand Super Rugby finalist
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 10: Vaea Fifita of the Hurricanes charges forward during the round four Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Crusaders at Westpac Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

This weekend’s semi-final match in Christchurch will cement the ‘lone’ New Zealand Super Rugby finalist. That is because “there can be only one…” and fanfare aside, it is a pivotal fixture in the 2018 season.

The feature teams are; the current holders, the Crusaders. They invite the 2016 holders down to Christchurch, to determine the finish order of the New Zealand Super Rugby teams. Although they finished one-two on the table, it is an opportunity for the Hurricanes to upset all the projections, and remove all hope of a New Zealand (NZ) hosted Grand Final.

The Lions will host the Waratahs, whom could remove South African hopes, while being seeded above the ‘Canes may see the Australian side host the final [considering the 2018 format].

Playoff to ensure ‘lone’ New Zealand Super Rugby finalist

When these two sides clash, it is usually ‘epic’. As much of a colossal struggle between two heavyweight franchises, but the factors involved that would either see an NZ team host the final….or not, make it reach another level.

It is a match worthy of a Final, but with the structure of the conference system; where home semi-final wins provide the comfort of an home final – the Hurricanes may prove to be in the ultimate spoiler position [in regards to the ‘Saders hopes].

A win for the ‘Canes only benefits the Lions or Waratahs; who play in the Johannesburg semi-final.

It adds another element to a pulsating fixture. A third derby game for 2018, where the ledger is one-all. And will mean the below selections are truly pivotal to analyze from both sides’ view.

Crusaders have never lost a knockout home playoff

History is on the defending Champion’s side. A team whom have never lost a home playoff fixture. That is over 20 seasons, considering those years when the home draw favours the team’s participation. Away from home, their record is not as strong, but in 2018 head coach Scott Robertson is more weary of his opponents.

He told media at training today, “look, they’ve got so many gamebreakers, that you’ve just got to have a clear plan. How we are going to defend them, where the majority of their launches [attacks] come from. And just, turn up!”

Crusaders Super Rugby training session at Rugby Park on May 23, 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The final statement is pure Razor Robertson. One of the more passionate coaches, he has had to choose the incoming Joe Moody over his New Zealand Super Rugby leading player, Wyatt Crockett. Due to retire after the final, a loss would see his record caps number remain [but certainly difficult to catch]. But Crockett will know, his replacement can absorb the pressure just as well.

The senior players of the Crusaders are familiar with the pressures that come with finals footy. In fact, last years finalists squad will fill many of the positions of the 2018 version. Few are more comfortable with International knockout rugby though, than two-time Rugby World Cup winner, Kieran Read. He told 1News Sport;

“We are in good shape, but finals come down to the little moments. It’s great to be a part of it, but nothing comes for granted.”

Pressure could tell, with the weight of the rugby public being on both sides. The Crusaders faithful would dearly love for a ninth title. And the side selected below are capable of continuing that dream – however, the opposition are equally as motivated to created another legacy, with a second Hurricanes New Zealand Super Rugby franchise Championship.

Hurricanes are step closer to Second title

Not getting ahead of themselves, the Hurricanes have recaptured some lost form, to head into the match with some confidence. The last few losses gave doubters a sense that the ‘old days’ had returned, but soon to be departing head coach Chris Boyd knows his side is as talented as their opposition.

“Probably about the same [threat] ours poses to them. The Crusaders have Crotty and Goodhue – both quality midfielders – our two aren’t bad either.

“I think it will be a good battle”. He says this, in relation to the retention of Jordie Barrett at center. A sometime cover player (due to the season ending injury to Matt Proctor) so it will be a pressure-point in the midfield, where Boyd has been assured by the demonstration from Jordie last weekend.

“He likes the midfield, and he did enough for me last week, to suggest that was the right way for us to start”. Not that any one area of the game is a focus area. The locking area, halfback and certainly the starting first-fives places, are all just as interesting features of the match.

Honest assessment by Boyd is of a ‘tough encounter’

With the absence of Ardie Savea all week, many will be surprised by his selection on the bench. Boyd is confident that Savea will be fit – however using Gareth Evans on the blindside was a good call. He was very effective last week, and if the Hurricanes can use that same injection around the fringes, then they can hold off Matt Todd and the returning Jordan Taufua.

If the challenge in the loose, is as fierce as it will be on the edges, then fans will be fully engaged. Although, with the current holders capabilities to score points, defence will be an area that the visitors might well be aware of.

Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd prior to the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium on May 25, 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

Coincidentally, when asked on 1News Sport about the fact that ‘the Crusaders had averaged 30 points in all of their home games this season’, dead panned, Boyd [who will leave to coach Northampton] answered;

“if they score 30…we need to score 31!”

His incoming replacement John Plumtree would chuckle at the retort. Classic Hurricanes blunt humour. But he also knows that sometimes ‘less is more’.

That is the simplicity of rugby in a nutshell. Both groups know that it is ‘catch and pass’ and ‘tackle first, and stop the opposition’. While fancy footwork or testing rush defence is often the gameplan, fans on both sides realize it takes 23 men to defeat the opposition.

The Crusaders have a home advantage. It might be worth some points, but no other team could feel they might threaten the season-long favourites, more than the Hurricanes do.

And if the scores are level after 80 minutes;

  • Extra Time: played in two 10 minute periods with a two-minute half time
  • Sudden Death: played for up to 10 minutes with the first team to score declared the winner
  • Last gasp conclusion….an Kicking Competition

_______________________________________________________________________

Crusaders v Hurricanes – Saturday July 28, AMI Stadium

South African Jaco Peyper, who controlled last year’s final when the Crusaders beat the Lions 25-17 in Johannesburg, has been appointed as the referee.

Lions v Waratahs – Emirates Airline Stadium, Johannesburg

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

LEAVE A REPLY

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.