Hur­ri­canes in eye of Super fi­nals storm

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE - MARC HIN­TON

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.

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