Hurricanes plan to wing it against Crusaders
Cory Jane and Julian Savea looked pumped all week, still high on their Hamilton heroics.
Jane, the fleet-footed stepper, and Savea, the Bus, have been inseparable in the buildup to the Hurricanes' must-win match against the Crusaders tonight.
They began training on Thursday with a game of tag and ended it with Savea doing his best to hijack Jane as he tried to do a radio interview on his mobile phone.
These are good signs for the Hurricanes.
Jane was at his elusive best when he relaxed and had fun during the All Blacks' third-test rout of England.
Savea too, has taken his game to a new level.
The pair will be crucial to the Hurricanes' chances of keeping their Super Rugby season alive when they run on to Westpac Stadium.
"Julian acts quite humble in front of people, but I can tell you in the changing rooms he's always got his top off looking in the mirror," Jane joked when asked how the Crusaders should try to contain Savea.
"I try to contain him in that way and tell him not to, but seriously, he's a talent. He's a big lad, 107 clicks [kilos] or something. He's a guy who can not just run you over, but has different attributes to his game, so that's scary."
A blind man can see that the home side hold most of their aces in the backs, where five-eighths Beauden Barrett and Alapati Leiua, along with new centre Tim Bateman, provide quality conduits to their match-winning wings.
The Crusaders are a fortress at the best of times, but lack punch in the backs and are without top try scorer Nemani Nadolo for the match.
Wings Johnny McNicholl and Nafi Tuitavake, for all their attacking skills, have provided chinks on occasion this season and Leiua's match-winning try during the Hurricanes' 29-26 round seven win in Christchurch will not have been forgotten by either side.
Get the ball wide and young openside Ardie Savea will fancy himself in a foot race with the Crusaders loose forwards when it comes to the wide rucks.
Which is about where the needle has the potential to come sliding off the Hurricanes' best-laid plans.
Their last outing, a 37-24 thumping at the hands of the Blues, highlighted the doubts that continue to linger in the minds of even the Hurricanes' most faithful followers.
They were, quite simply, bullied off Eden Park a month ago. A similarly limp effort up front will extinguish any plans to unleash the attacking threats of Jane, Julian Savea, or quick fullback Matt Proctor.
Prop Ben Franks' return will help, but youngsters like Thomson, prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and blindside Brad Shields hold the key to the Hurricanes' hopes.
Unless the young brigade can match the Crusaders at set piece and ruck time, then any advantage out wide will be blown away in the Wellington wind.
"I don't think it's belief because we have a lot of that in this squad," Thrush said when asked about the key to beating the Crusaders. "We have to be a bit desperate but not on the wrong side of it. We put a lot of pressure on them last time and got up in a tight one."
Three wins from their last five matches means the Hurricanes know they can overcome the red and blacks, but the task is immense.
Any pack containing lock Sam Whitelock is a good one, and with props Owen Franks and Joe Moody as well as No 8 Kieran Read on the bench, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is spoilt for choice.
The Hurricanes would do well to get the job done early before Read, Franks, Moody and Dan Carter join in.
If they don't, then next week's trip to Hamilton will be nothing more than a farewell for departing coach Mark Hammett.
AT A GLANCE
What: Hurricanes vs Crusaders
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
TV: Sky Sport 1, 7.35pm, tonight
Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
TAB odds: Hurricanes $1.95, Crusaders $1.80
HURRICANES: Matt Proctor, Cory Jane, Tim Bateman, Alapati Leiua, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, James Broadhurst, Jack Lam, Chris Smylie, Hadleigh Parkes, James Marshall
CRUSADERS: Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty (c), Nafi Tuitavake, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Samuel Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Jimmy Tupou, Kieran Read, Willi Heinz, Dan Carter, Rob Thompson
The Dominion Post