D-Day for the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday
All or nothing.
That's the simple equation for the Hurricanes as they prepare for what is effectively a Super Rugby knockout match against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
The winner will almost certainly bank enough points to go through to the playoffs, and the loser left to ponder what might have been.
For all its flaws, Super Rugby is building toward arguably its most exciting climax yet from a New Zealand perspective.
There remains the very real possibility that four Kiwi teams could finish in the top six in a fortnight, including the resurgent Blues, but the loser of the Hurricanes-Chiefs match will not be among them.
It promises to be a dramatic regular-season finale for coach Mark Hammett's Hurricanes, who have a bye in the final week.
The 16-9 win over the Crusaders marked the first time the Hurricanes had beaten their southern rivals twice in a season, but it came at a cost.
No 8 Victor Vito (calf) and second five-eighth Alapati Leiua (ankle) seem likely to miss the Chiefs match, while scans in the next few days will determine whether hooker Dane Coles' calf is bruised or torn.
The hard-running Hadleigh Parkes' assured performance off the bench is likely to team him up with Tim Bateman in a patched-up midfield but No 8 and hooker are more uncertain.
Of Coles' backups, Motu Matu'u left the field against the Crusaders with a stinger on his shoulder, Ash Dixon missed the match with a shoulder injury of his own, and prop Reggie Goodes made a good fist of the hooking duties late in the match.
Two-try hero Blade Thomson, Brad Shields, or Faifili Levave, if he recovers from an ankle injury, are the obvious options at No 8.
Hammett can ill-afford to get distracted by injuries.
The Hurricanes' immediate concern is shoring up a wobbly setpiece and finding the elusive formula to back up a big performance.
"We have a bit of work to do there," captain and lock Jeremy Thrush said after being shunted around Westpac Stadium by the Crusaders pack and hustled at the lineout. "They are a quality team at setpiece, but we had a few wobbles there at the lineout . . . and our scrum was under a lot of pressure. We'll have to work on that this week because it will be something the Chiefs will be targeting."
The defending champions are in desperation mode after losing to the Highlanders and may have lost lock Brodie Retallick (hip) and prop Josh Hohneck (thumb) in the process.
Thrush isn't concerned who turns up at Waikato Stadium, saying the Hurricanes had to focus on repeating the intensity they played with against the Crusaders.
"It's another big one for us and I think that's the challenge. We talked about it in the huddle after the [Crusaders] match that good teams go on and play another good game the following week. That's something we've struggled to do this year."
What's not in any doubt is how badly the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs, something they have not achieved since 2009.
It's not just the fact Hammett and his assistants Alama Ieremia and Richard Watt will not be involved next year.
Leiua, Bateman, Jack Lam, Andre Taylor and probably a few more players will sign off their Hurricanes careers at the end of the season.
There is a collective will to send them off with a bang but more than that, a desire to prove to the doubters they have made progress in four seasons hamstrung by inconsistency.
First five-eighth Beauden Barrett is adamant the side is trending upwards and pointed to a defence that held the Crusaders tryless as concrete evidence.
"That instinct to attack is always going to be there for us but it's all about workrate and understanding, and buying into the defensive system. Discipline is a big part of it. Clark Laidlaw has worked really hard there with us this year and I think we've improved heaps."
Barrett knows his words will count for little unless they are backed by a win over the Chiefs and a resulting place in the playoffs.
The Dominion Post