The Hurricanes will eagerly seek the latest news on the fitness of Rodney So’oialo today.
The NZ Herald reports that the All Blacks number eight is rated a 50-50 chance by coach Colin Cooper to play in the Super 14 rugby semifinal against the Crusaders this weekend due to rib damage suffered against the Blues.
First five-eighth Willie Ripia says it is one thing to lose a player of his ability, but another to lose him as a leader.
He says it is a huge issue, and describes So’oialo as a leader who is demonstrative rather than a big talker.
Ripia has an anxious wait of his own in the countdown to the semifinal, and while he may be the favourite to line up in the No 10 jersey, there is no guarantee he will get the nod.
Rookie Ripia relishing Carter challenge
He says he continues to battle for the spot with Jimmy Gopperth and that the competition is a healthy one.
Ripia won’t hesitate to attempt a dropped goal if required in Saturday’s Super 14 rugby semifinal against the Crusaders despite a forgettable return last weekend.
Daniel Gilhooly writes in the same publication that one of the finds of the 2008 season, Ripia also lacks nothing in confidence given his attitude to missing three late pots in the 17-19 loss to the Blues in Auckland.
With the Hurricanes surging in the final five minutes, their momentum stuttered as Ripia missed two attempts from close range and another from 40m.
Land any of them and he would have been hailed a matchwinner and the Hurricanes would be hosting a semifinal this weekend rather than facing the daunting trek to Christchurch.
The 21-year-old was following team instructions and is happy to blame himself for the misses.
“Personally, I should have slotted them really, they were quite easy kicks,” he said.
“It was one of those days where my foot let me down but I’m not going to hide. I just should have kicked them.”
Ripia, who reckons he’s landed plenty of dropped goals in a burgeoning career, would like nothing more than the chance to redeem himself against the Crusaders.
Whether it was a dropped goal or a late penalty chance to win the game, Ripia said those sort of crux moments were what he played for.
“I love it. As a 10, I think you thrive under pressure like that.
“Any other 10 would say that too.”
Assuming he is selected to start his fifth straight game – having first assumed the playmaking role from Jimmy Gopperth against the Cheetahs a month ago – Ripia will go head to head with All Black Daniel Carter for the first time.
Not surprisingly, it is an opportunity he relishes.
“The Crusaders are probably the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby at the moment and the likes of Dan Carter playing will make it the biggest challenge I’ve had.”
Ripia has history with the man likely to start outside Carter, Stephen Brett.
Playing at age group level for Waikato against Canterbury, Ripia can recount several tussles with Brett, three months his junior.
The pair also tussled for the New Zealand No 10 jersey at junior level.
Carter and Brett have already been identified as the attacking heartbeat of the Crusaders in Hurricanes video sessions.
“We do a lot on those two in particular,” Ripia revealed.
Ripia, who shifted from Waikato to Taranaki at Air New Zealand Cup level, hasn’t been overawed by the step up this year.
His emergence is an important one given the thinning first five-eighth stocks at elite New Zealand level.
“It’s been a blur for me so far,” he said.
“Definitely the Blues was the toughest, biggest game I’ve ever played. It was a huge crowd and I enjoyed it, even though we didn’t win.
“It’s quite cool.”
Ripia has brought more control to the Hurricanes than the mercurial Gopperth and a sounder general kicking game.
His impact has received indirect praise from an unlikely source.
Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett believes Saturday’s opponents have adopted a more rounded style than Hurricanes teams of the past.
“They’ve always got their danger men but the thing about the Hurricanes this year, especially towards the latter stages of the season, is that they’re playing a lot more structured footy,” Crockett told reporters.
“The coaching staff have done a good job and got them playing their good patterns.
“It’s one of the strengths they’ve got ahead of other years when they haven’t had that structure. I’d say that’s more of a threat than anything.”Tweet