Colin Cooper is backing the Hurricanes’ set piece to deliver an historic playoff win against the Crusaders in Saturday’s first Super 14 semifinal at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Jim Kayes writes for The Dominion Post that the Hurricanes have beaten the Crusaders only once in Christchurch – under coach Graham Mourie in 2001 – with seven defeats and a draw showing how hard they have found life at what is now AMI Stadium.
Three times Cooper has taken the Hurricanes south during the Super playoffs and three times they have returned to Wellington defeated.
They were thumped 39-16 in 2003, hammered 47-7 in 2005 a week after they were dispatched 40-20 in the final round-robin match, and beaten 19-12 in the foggy final in 2006.
Despite such a dreadful record, Cooper, who has taken the Hurricanes to four semifinals in six years, was confident they could win this week.
‘‘The difference between ’06 and now is that our set piece is stronger. Everything starts at the set piece and ours has been getting better and better.
‘‘If we can get accurate ball, and go-forward ball, then our backs are such a threat. The most accurate team will win and we will go down there with a lot of confidence.”
That confidence could be boosted by a look at the Crusaders’ last five games which include three narrow wins, a loss to the Chiefs last month and another to the Highlanders on Saturday.
But Cooper, who helped coach the Crusaders in their unbeaten title run in 2002, said he could understand the Crusaders’ dilemma in the past few weeks as they had qualified for the playoffs, with several games still to play.
‘‘It’s such a mental game at this level and you have to ask what the Crusaders were playing for.
‘‘But they are such a professional outfit they will be at their best on Saturday, and it’s important we are at our best too.”
Both sides should be at full strength. The Crusaders’ only injury concern is No 8 Mose Tuiali’i's sore knee, while Hurricanes No 8 Rodney So’oialo bruised his ribs in the 19-17 loss to the Blues on Friday night.
‘‘I’m not worried yet because he says he is fine, but we will monitor him during the week,” Cooper said of the Hurricanes captain.
Fullback Cory Jane should be available after he pulled out of the Blues match on Friday morning because of a sore throat. He was almost not replaced as fog at Auckland airport delayed Shannon Paku’s flight from Wellington. He arrived five hours before kickoff.
The return of All Blacks prop Neemia Tialata should be the only change to the Hurricanes’ playing 22 with Willie Ripia again expected to start at first five-eighth ahead of Jimmy Gopperth.
Gopperth didn’t get on at Eden Park with Cooper admitting the final quarter sped past so quickly the match was almost over when he realised Gopperth was still on the sideline. ‘‘Our intention was to use both 10s, but the time just went by so quickly,” Cooper said.
There have been suggestions Gopperth would have succeeded where Ripia failed with a matchwinning drop goal, but Cooper said Ripia was a capable kicker.
‘‘We thought the game might come down to a drop goal so both [Ripia and Gopperth] were practising them during the warmup.
Willie was hitting them from everywhere, but it’s a bit different when the pressure is on.”
Australia’s Stu Dickinson is expected to be in control of the Christchurch semifinal and New Zealand’s Bryce Lawrence the Sydney match.Tweet