It’s too big a game for some tender ribs to keep Jerry Collins from the fray, the All Blacks flanker back into the starting XV for the Hurricanes as they tackle the Blues at Eden Park on Friday night for a place in the Super 14 semifinals.
Marc Hinton reports on RugbyHeaven NZ that Collins has missed the last three matches through his damaged ribs, but the hard man of the New Zealand game has declared himself ready for the fray against the Blues, with so much on the line for both sides.
It’s a tough call on openside flanker Scott Waldrom, who has played so well in Collins’ stead. But really coach Colin Coooper has made the only call he can considering the stakes. Waldrom drops to the bench and will no doubt be called on later in the fray on Friday night to provide some much-needed impact.
The only other change to the Canes side that ground out a solid wet-weather win over the Western Force at home last weeekend is in the front row, where one All Black replaces another, John Schwalger coming in to fill the boots of the suspended Neemia Tialata.
That leaves big Tim Fairbrother at tighthhead prop where he will have the devil’s own job dealing with the scrum menace that is the “myth” Tony Woodcock.
Cooper has left his backline untouched, meaning Willie Ripia continues to get the nod as playmaker ahead of Jimmy Gopperth, and once again there is no place for Shannon Paku with Hosea Gear retaining his spot on the right wing and Tamati Ellison covering the outside backs on the bench.
The match should be a beaut, with both teams chasing a win to enhance their playoff claims.
The Hurricanes can clinch a home semifinal with a victory, but could miss out on the top four altogether if they get rolled.
The Blues need to take the full five points and then still have another result or two go their way over the rest of the weekend.
There should also be some matchups with national ramifications, including in the midfield and in the loose forwards. The head-to-head between the ultra-experienced Collins and the in-form Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker looks a peach. Similarly Chris Masoe and Daniel Braid on the openside.
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, 7 Chris Masoe, 6 Jerry Collins, 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 Scott Waldrom, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Tamati Ellison.