There’s not yet a better term for it than the golf phrase “moving day”. It’s the Saturday in a tournament when competitors set themselves up for the final push. Some will press their claims while others will fade under the pressure.
That time has come in the Super 14.
Jim Kayes writes in The Dominion Post that for about eight teams the 13-round championship has suddenly become a knockout competition. Lose, and it’s that awful finish when you’re just playing for pride.
It’s rugby’s version of purgatory to see out a competition knowing you are not a contender and that the best you can hope for is to ruin another team’s year.
That list will grow this weekend and the Hurricanes are keen to stay off it.
Having collected a creditable 10 points from the possible 15 on offer during their three-match South African tour, the Hurricanes face the fifth and final team from the republic tonight.
It should be their easiest win. The Lions have been one of those sides that make you scratch your head and wonder why things haven’t gone better for them. But it’s impossible to go past their record of played 10, lost eight, drawn one and won one – that victory coming against the Cheetahs in the opening round of the competition. It must seem a lifetime ago for the Lions.
They have not played in Johannesburg since they drew with the Reds on March 23 and have been in Canberra, Sydney, Christchurch and Dunedin during the past four weeks. They finish a five-week road trip in Wellington tonight.
There has been some determined talk from coach Eugene Eloff this week as he said the Lions would “prepare for the battle ahead” and try to play to their best.
“Nobody gives us a chance, but we do believe we can do it,” Eloff said.
They can, but they shouldn’t.
This might be a potential banana skin match for the Hurricanes, but there is really no way they should slip up.
If they are in danger of taking the Lions lightly, they need only look to last week when the Jo’burg boys lost by just seven points to the Brumbies. And if the Hurricanes lack in motivation, they might reflect on the 30-7 drubbing they suffered at Ellis Park a year ago.
At this time of year and with so much still to play for, there is simply no way the Hurricanes should fall into the trap of complacency or lack drive.
They have talked all year about being good enough to make the playoffs and are now perfectly poised to do so. Their destiny is still in their hands, provided they keep winning.
It is an intriguing team that will run out for the Canes with Willie Ripia preferred at pivot and Zac Guildford named ahead of Hosea Gear on the wing.
Ripia has a grand chance to cement a spot ahead of Jimmy Gopperth who is a gutsy player, but one whose inconsistencies too often outshine his talents.
Ripia has an exciting backline outside him with the smooth skills of Tane Tu’ipulotu perhaps better suited to centre, especially with the brutal Ma’a Nonu wreaking havoc at second five-eighth.
Guildford will be one to watch if the pack performs and Ripia sets his backs away.
The Hawke’s Bay teenager has pace, a nifty step, a great work rate and a bloodhound’s nose for the try line.
Coach Colin Cooper was pleased with the Hurricanes’ African safari but hinted that they felt they had a lot more to offer.
He is delighted with his side’s fitness which he said nearly won the day in Cape Town and was the key difference in Kimberley last week.
“The Stormers really faded but we didn’t take the opportunities on offer. Last week our fitness was outstanding against the Cheetahs.
“We are moving in the right direction, the direction we want to be in.”
That won’t change now – or at least, it shouldn’t.
HURRICANES: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Shannon Paku, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So’oialo (captain), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Chris Masoe, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger. Reserves: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Craig Clarke, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Conrad Smith.
LIONS: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Walter Venter, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Dusty Noble, 10 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 9 Jano Vermaak; 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Franco van der Merwe, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Dewald Senekal, 3 JC Janse van Rensburg, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe. Reserves: 16 Ethiene Reynecke, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Cobus Grobler, 19 Willem Koch, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Rudi Vogt, 22 Louis Ludik.
Referee: Matt Goddard (Aus).Tweet