Its hard to believe this competition is getting into its final phase now, with only three more rounds after this weekend still to play. Although the Crusaders have one hand and 4 fingers already on the trophy, there is still much to play for. The Hurricanes upset the pecking order last weekend getting up over the Blues and now will have to do it all again when they travel down to face the Crusaders. The second game will see the continued journey of Warren Gatland and his Chiefs searching for their first win against the Blues at Eden Park. Lets take a look at the games….
CRUSADERS vs HURRICANES – Orangetheory Stadium
A week off at home for the Crusaders is the perfect tonic for a midseason rest. After the big bash up against the Blues, the Crusaders will be once again fresh and ready to fire against the side that has pretty much overtaken the Blues as the number two side in the competition.
The Crusaders have a couple of changes set for the lineup this weekend with Braydon Ennor out and Fetuli Paea replacing him in midfield. David Havili’s season is also done after just battling his way into the starting side in recent weeks so Will Jordan will resume where he left off back in his fifteen jumper.
With the loss of Havili, Brett Cameron has taken his place on the bench and many of us begin to remember who he is yet again and question the effect to the Crusaders if Richie Mo’unga went down injured this weekend. Is that Crusaders depth starting to be tested?
Of course, this is a Crusaders team on a 36 match unbeaten run at home and regardless where they play they will always run into the game as favourites this season and a massive test for every side.
Could there every be a better time to face the Crusaders for the Hurricanes? Just after they beat the side who pushed them all the way the week before, mentally they must be more than ready to take that next step. Only problem they may have, is their mental state after the game if things don’t go their way.
Its an interesting time for the Hurricanes with a couple of players either leaving overseas or about to leave. Korbus Van Wyk has already departed after becoming a vital part of the squad on the right wing and it will be the 50th and final time we see Ben Lam on the left wing, as he will be leaving the nest after this weekend. What a way it could be to go out for Lam…
Of course to beat the Crusaders, or to even match them, the pack needs a big performance and once again the Hurricanes are without Dane Coles so Asafo Aumua will get the nod at hooker in his place. As every week, guys like Ardie Savea and his backrow buddies will again need to look after the breakdown especially on their own ball.
But its in the backs where this game could get a nudge from the Hurricanes and hopefully someone has annoyed Ngani Laumape again this week! After his devastating display against the Blues he needs to back that up again against the ultimate opponent and one of the better midfield defenders in Jack Goodhue.
Peter Umaga-Jensen was a good partner for Laumape last week as well and with a debut starter on their opposite thirteen, its going to be an area I will expect them to run hard at.
Although I’m not expecting the Hurricanes to test the Crusaders as much as the Blues did recently, I think its going to be a typical tight Crusaders match where they cruise their way into the final quarter and blitz the result home. Too many times we have seen it and the Hurricanes are too fragile to withstand it. When things start to close out at they move TJ Perenara into ten, it could be even worse.
RESULT: Crusaders by 6
BLUES v CHIEFS – Eden Park
Who would have thought this is where we would be three or four weeks ago?! After the Blues were smashing their way undefeated towards the Crusaders, then it all came unstuck. The Blues just never really looked the same last week against the Hurricanes and will need to snap back into shape quickly if they want to get their season back on track.
The Blues can not afford to slack off against any opponent and regardless of results the Chiefs are no different and have the ability if you sleep on them.
The post match interview with Patrick Tuipulotu told a huge tale of the Blues reaction to that result last weekend. They knew as much as anyone watching that their performance was far below par. Now they have two losses on the trot, can they find their groove again?
The major part of their game plan is that power running in that backrow of theirs. They missed Hoskins Sotutu at eight and will be desperate for him to return. Caleb Clarke will be another one who could really spark the Blues back to life.
Well, there’s no more to lose for the Chiefs is there? Beating the Highlanders would have been their lifeline to escape from fifth spot but even with a massive lead, they couldn’t seal that deal.
They were much improved from previous weeks however, not only did we see an actual distinctive display from Lachlan Boshier, there was actual forward running from Damien McKenzie who combined a number of times with some much better running lines from Anton Lienert-Brown.
In terms of chances created and chances taken, the Chiefs were at their peak, turning everything into points and made very few first have errors. The bounce went their way and its hard to see they will get another chance like it this season to pull off their first win.
Like I said at the start, there’s nothing to lose here for the Chiefs and the Blues will need to be very careful of the wounded visitors. If they Blues don’t respond to last weekends loss well, it may be golden chance 2.0 for the Chiefs, underestimate them at your peril.
BLUES by 3
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