Hurricanes in eye of Super finals storm
NO-ONE in Super Rugby likes the June test break. It’s a momentum-killing strengthsapper, and the fact that this is its final intrusion into the ailing franchise competition is the best piece of news it’s had for a while.
But the Hurricanes possibly have less reason to detest the untimely interlude than most in 2018. All going to plan, the pregnant pause while the June test window has played out might even revive their ailing season in the nick of time.
At least that’s the blue-sky thinking around the capital, where they’re desperate to hit the reset button as they resume in Canberra next weekend for the final three rounds of the regular season. There is still all sorts to play for.
The one-time title favourites and 2016 champions staggered into the June break with back-to- back defeats at the Crusaders and Highlanders, and could count their blessings it wasn’t three on the bounce after the most unconvincing of home victories (38-34) over the Reds on May 18.
The Canes had been flying along with 10 wins on the trot after their opening-round defeat at the Bulls and, with their RollsRoyce backline purring and hard-working pack grafting, looked for all money the team to beat.
But the Reds near-miss, followed by the Crusaders and Highlanders’ reality checks, has seen momentum change horses and, before the Canes knew it, they were picking up the pieces in the June break, having hit the proverbial wall.
‘‘We were pretty grumpy about the last three games,’’ Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd conceded. ‘‘We didn’t play particularly well, and didn’t quite pay for it against the Reds, but did against the Crusaders and Highlanders.
‘‘We probably drifted away a bit. One was weather affected, and Christchurch is a tough place to play in the middle of winter at that ground. But we went away from what Hurricanes rugby is about and we’ve put a big focus on what we’ve been able to do well the last three or four years, and make sure we get that bit right.’’
The departing Boyd is a realist. He is well aware it’s unlikely anyone catches the Crusaders now, nine points clear at the top of the table, even with the bye to come on resumption week.
‘‘They’ve got a lot of guys up front who have played a lot of minutes for the All Blacks; it’s a great coincidence they managed to get a bye after the June series,’’ added the wry Canes coach.)
But there’s still plenty to play for. A strong finish, with the Blues (home) and Chiefs (away) to follow the Brumbies visit, would see them hold fourth spot under Sanzaar’s protective seedings system, and secure a home quarterfinal. From there anything is possible.
‘‘More than anything for us, we’ve lost two games on the bounce, and even though they were Crusaders and Highlanders away, we were unhappy with our performances. That’s the bit we need to right to get ourselves back on the horse and in this race again.’’
Boyd says he has formulated a plan around his returning cache of All Blacks, though won’t finalise it until a fitness call on Monday. He hints that one or two internationals might miss the trip to Canberra.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Both Beauden Barrett and Vaea Fifita are progressing favourably from the concussion symptoms that ruled them out of the third test against France, and none of Boyd’s international contingent have started all three outings in June. They also came through a 43-38 tryfest warm-up against the Chiefs in Hawera by ticking most boxes asked.
‘‘Everybody will be in Monday, we’ll get a heads-up on where people are at physically and mentally, and some will carry on go to Canberra and some may not,’’ added Boyd, who confirmed none of his long-term injured bodies are due back for the last part of the season.
One thing is for sure: the Canes are in no spot to take anyone lightly, least of all a Brumbies outfit playing for their post-season lives.
The Highlanders host the Chiefs on Saturday in next weekend’s other clash featuring Kiwi playoff contenders. With just three points separating them, it’s a match-up with plenty riding on it.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd.