The Hurricanes have made two key changes for this weekend’ss crunch match against the Cheetahs and want to send three players home early to get ready for the Lions next week.
RugbyHeaven NZ reports that Willie Ripia will start his first match for the Hurricanes in the No 10 jersey while teenager Zac Guildford will run out at wing in place of Mr Reliable, Shannon Paku.
It’s a courageous call by Cooper as a loss will leave the Hurricanes’ already borderline chance of making the top four more precarious.
Cooper said yesterday the changes had been planned and Ripia’s selection was not a reflection on how Jimmy Gopperth had been performing at first five-eighths.
Cooper wants Gopperth, Paku and prop John Schwalger to come home as soon as possible after the match in Kimberley to give them more time to get over the jet lag before next Saturday’s match against the Lions in Wellington.
“That would be ideal but because people can get ill so quickly over here, the earliest we could possibly do it is after the game. So we’re looking into it.”
Cooper had no qualms about throwing Ripia in at the deep end in a match that could decide the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes.
“We’d planned to give him a game in South Africa. It hasn’t got anything to do with the way Jimmy has been playing – it was planned. We’d wanted to give Willie an opportunity and we’ve picked this game to do it.”
Still, it’s a big call. Ripia, 22, has played 26 games for Waikato but largely off the bench, and he has been used only sparingly from the reserves by the Hurricanes.
Guildford, 18, became the youngest Hurricane when he got 30 minutes off the bench in last week’s loss to the Stormers – a cameo that caught the coaches’ eyes.
“He’s an exciting player and his performance was pretty significant,” Cooper said. “We’d planned to give him game time over here and he made the most of it.
“The conditions probably suit him too and for a young man he’s got a good head on him.”
The changes leave no room for Gopperth or Paku on a reserves bench that features the inexperienced Brett Goodin as halfback cover alongside Tamati Ellison who has been struggling for form.
Jerry Collins’ absence means there are two locks on the bench – Bernie Upton and Craig Clarke – while Scott Waldrom gets his second start at openside with Chris Masoe moving to the blindside.
Schwalger gets a rest with Neemia Tialata switching to the loosehead and Tim Fairbrother starting at tighthead, while Jacob Ellison is on the bench.
HURRICANES: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So’oialo (c), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Chris Masoe, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Neemia Tialata.
Reserves: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bernie Upton, 19 Craig Clarke, 20 Brett Goodin, 21 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 22 Tamati Ellison.