With Super Rugby now just days away, we preview each of the teams in the competition ahead of the new season. Next up, the Hurricanes.
With a new coaching staff and bunch of new players, the Hurricanes are dark horses for a play-off berth. The question remains if their pack can provide the platform required for a deadly backline.
Last Year: So close! The Hurricanes fell just one point short of the playoffs in 2014 as they sat on the sidelines during a final-round bye and watched the Chiefs and Highlander sneak in.
A slow start of three-straight losses was followed by a mid-season surge of four-straights wins. A lack of consistency was ultimately their undoing as the men in yellow were unable to follow one win up with another in the final eight weeks.
A home loss to the Highlanders in early May proved particularly costly while just two wins from eight games on the road just wasn’t enough. Blowing a 17-points lead against the Waratahs to lose 30-39 in Sydney didn’t help either. A crushing defeat at the hands of the Sharks, as they were bullied by the home pack, illustrated their troubles up front. That said, thrashing the defending champions 45-8 showed their firepower amongst the backs.
This year: It’ll be tough to predict how this team will go in 2015 given the massive turnover in players and the change in coaching staff. Many of the names on the exit list are significant (Alapati Leiua, Faifili Levave, Andre Taylor…etc) but there are a handful of real prospects – and one superstar – set to step into the breach.
Nevertheless, history has shown that it normally takes a season or two to rebuild a squad. New head coach Chris Boyd will be under the spotlight given that his Wellington team just got relegated in the ITM Cup. In John Plumtree he has an experienced and well-travelled assistant but Boyd will have little margin for error.
It could be a slow start in 2015 as the draw has not done the ‘Canes any favours. In fact, fans in Wellington will have to wait until Round Seven for their first game at Westpac Stadium! The Hurricanes are one of only two teams to start their campaign on foreign soil, and are overseas for their first three games, as they visit the Highveld before moving on to Perth.
Key Players: He’s back! Prodigal son Ma’a Nonu returns to the Cake Tin to headline the Hurricanes’ recruitment drive. For years the All Blacks star has failed to reproduce his Test form on the Super Rugby stage, but back at ‘home’ and alongside his old partner in crime, Conrad Smith, Nonu could hold the key to the Canes’ success. If Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Ben Franks stay fit, this team has the ability to go a long way.
Players to watch: Former Melbourne Rebels full-back Jason Woodward returns to the city of his birth as he pursues the dream of an international call up. He has all the skills and surrounded by All Blacks, he is set to shine. Ardie Savea showed glimpses of his potential last year and is set to leave a mark in 2015. TJ Perenara and Jeremy Thrush will be working hard to ensure they book a places in the New Zealand’s World Cup squad.
Prospects: As mentioned, the fixture schedule is a tough one and the new coaching staff will be anxious to get off to a good start. Games in Johannesburg and Perth in the early weeks are winnable and could set the Canes up for a play-off push. But a bad start combined with the obligation to rest All Blacks for a handful of games could prove fatal. They’ll push for a play-off berth but, once again, could fall a whisker short. Mid table
Players in: Vince Aso (Auckland), Geoffrey Cridge (Hawke’s Bay), Chris Eves(Manawatu), Callum Gibbins (Manawatu), Wills Halaholo (Southland), Iopu Iopu-Aso (Taranaki), Reynold Lee-Lo (Crusaders), Christian Lloyd (Wellington), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu), Ma’a Nonu (Blues), Jason Woodward (Rebels).
Players out:Marty Banks, Tim Bateman , Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Jack Lam, Alapati Leiua, Faifili Levave, Hadleigh Parkes, Mark Reddish, Andre Taylor, Cardiff Vaega.
Fri, 13 Feb v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Fri, 20 Feb v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Fri, 27 Feb v Force (Perth Oval)
Round Four: BYE
Fri, 13 March v Blues (FMG Stadium, Palmerston North)
Fri, 20 March v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
Fri, 27 March v Rebels, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Fri, 3 April v Stormers, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Round Nine: BYE
Sat, 18 April v Waratahs, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Sun, 26 April v Reds (Lang Park, Brisbane)
Sat, 2 May v Crusaders, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Sat, 9 May v Sharks, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Sat, 16 May v Chiefs, (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Sat, 23 May v Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
Fri, 29 May v Crusaders (Trafalgar Park, Nelson)
Fri, 5 June v Highlanders (TBC)
Sat, 13 v Chiefs (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth)