Ahead of the 2017 season we take a closer look at each of the 18 teams participating in this year’s tournament. Next up, the Hurricanes.
They missed out to the Highlanders in the 2015 final but there was no denying the ‘Canes last year as they impressively finished atop the standings before progressing through the knockouts without conceding a try. Chris Boyd’s men were deserved champions after a fine season.
Now will come the tricky part, backing up what they did in 2016 when they have a target on their back from every team in the competition.
Last year: 11 wins from 15 games, the exact record of Highlanders, Chiefs, Crusaders and Lions, but the Hurricanes picked up nine bonus-points – seven try and two losing – to finish as regular-season winners. Crucially that gave them a home run to the final and they made light work of the Sharks in the quarters, winning 41-0, before they beat the Chiefs 25-9 in their semi and then Lions 20-3 in the final.
They had stars aplenty as half-back duo TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett earned so many plaudits while unsung heroes such as Reggie Goodes, Vaea Fifita, Michael Fatialofa and Willis Halaholo stepped up to play crucial roles in a success made all the more impressive in that they did it without injured utility-back Nehe Milner-Skudder. Amazingly his shoulder problem, sustained in Round 3, did not hurt their title push.
2016 started terribly, with back-to-back losses, but the ‘Canes found their feet thereafter, winning five in a row before a mini blip and then five straight again before the knockouts. Barrett was their star with a competition-high 223 points while he also scored nine tries.
This year: Of their starting XV from the final win against the Lions, only Victor Vito and centre Halaholo have moved on and with quality in Blade Thomson and new signing Jordie Barrett they are well stocked for another title tilt. Barrett’s arrival, along with the return of star Milner-Skudder gives the ‘Canes yet more firepower and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them get their hands on the silverware again.
Jordie Barrett is going to give them so much more in midfield and as a reliable goal-kicker, which is an interesting call for coach Boyd. His performances in the recent Brisbane Tens were excellent and we expect the ‘Canes to flourish with him in the side, with opening games against the Sunwolves (away) and Rebels (home) ideal lead-ups to facing the Chiefs (away) and Highlanders (home) before a first bye week.
They boast incredible depth at prop and hooker but there is concern over when James Broadhurst will return at lock. The back-row is solid, as is the half-backs, with Jordie also capable of filling in, while Matt Proctor and Milner-Skudder’s versatility is one of many reasons why they are up there as title favourites. They play one game in South Africa, at the Bulls, but this lot will fear no one both home and away.
Key players: No prizes for guessing who will be the key players in the Hurricanes’ season once again. Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara are such a devastating double act who contributed to so many of their tries in 2016. They’ll be pivotal to their hopes of retaining the title, as will Ardie Savea who knows that another blockbusting season in yellow and black could lead to him usurping Sam Cane as New Zealand’s seven.
Players to watch: Another Barrett here, this time Jordie, who makes his Super Rugby debut after a superb 2016 in the Mitre 10 Cup. Capable of playing at 10, 12 or 15, the 19-year-old has bags of talent and is likely to take this competition by storm alongside brother, Beauden. With Willis Halaholo now with Cardiff Blues, Barrett will be battling with Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso for a centre spot and while he may not be thrown in from the outset, expect him to nail down a starting berth this season as he has all the skills to go very far in the game.
The Barretts should create plenty of opportunities for Nehe Milner-Skudder to cut loose on his return from injury and the competition will be a richer spectacle with him back. In early 2016 he was outstanding and the ‘Canes will hope he has lost none of his box office ability.
Prospects: Unlike last year we expect a decent start from the Hurricanes and the fixture list in truth doesn’t look overly daunting for a side that boasts such talent. If they keep their star half-backs fit then there’s no reason they can’t get to a third straight final. From there they have the knowledge fresh in their mind of having broken their duck in 2016 so expect a side full of confidence to be challengers.
Players in: Sam Lousi (Waratahs), Toa Halafihi (Taranaki), Reed Prinsep (Crusaders), Kylem O’Donnell (Taranaki), Jordie Barrett (Canterbury), Ben Lam (Blues), Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wellington)
Players out: Hisa Sasagi (Otago), Motu Matu’u (Gloucester), James Blackwell (Wellington), Christian Lloyd (Wellington), Iopu Iopu-Aso (Taranaki), Tony Lamborn (Hawke’s Bay), Victor Vito (La Rochelle), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster), James Marshall (London Irish), TJ Va’a (Wellington), Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues), Jason Woodward (Bristol)
Saturday, February 25 v Sunwolves (Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo)
Saturday, March 4 v Rebels (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Friday, March 10 v Chiefs (FMG Stadium, Hamilton)
Saturday, March 18 v Highlanders (Westpac Stadium)
Round 5: BYE
Saturday, April 1 v Reds (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, April 7 v Waratahs (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, April 15 v Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
Friday, April 21 v Brumbies (McLean Park, Napier)
Round 10: BYE
Friday, May 5 v Stormers (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, May 13 v Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
Saturday, May 20 v Cheetahs (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, May 27 v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, June 3 v Force (nib Stadium, Perth)
Friday, June 9 v Chiefs (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, July 15 v Crusaders (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)