Hurricanes openside flanker Scott Waldrom holds the key to the Super 14 semifinal. The tearaway No 7 comes back into the Hurricanes starting XV for tonight’s match against the Crusaders after skipper Rodney So’oialo yesterday succumbed to his rib injury.
Toby Robson writes in The Dominion Post that So’oialo’s absence is significant. It thrusts hooker Andrew Hore into his first match as captain and robs the Hurricanes of their workaholic leader.
So’oialo is a player whose physicality would have blunted the Crusaders at the breakdown, especially if the forecast of a cold temperature, rain and wind prove true.
However, in Waldrom the Hurricanes may have a trump card.
That is how they must view a situation which sees Chris Masoe revert to his old Taranaki position of No8 in a rejigged loose trio.
Waldrom’s return to the No7 jersey gives many pundits what they have been calling for in the wake of recent efforts against the Lions and Force – an openside flier who gets to the breakdown, pilfers ball and links with his backs.
If ever coach Colin Cooper wanted to show opposite Robbie Deans that the apprentice has caught up to his teacher, the time is now.
The Hurricanes must move their point of attack wider to pit Waldrom in a footrace to the breakdown with opposite Richie McCaw.
Physically the All Blacks captain has few peers, and that challenge should fall to Masoe and Jerry Collins. But Waldrom will test McCaw’s fitness and pace.
McCaw will be preparing for Hurricanes second-five Ma’a Nonu to run at opposite Tim Bateman and for the Hurricanes to launch their attacks from a second phase they will hope is over the gain line.
That tactic won’t be abandoned, but a wider game should be the call with Crusaders wings Scott Hamilton, after four weeks of club rugby, and youngster Kade Poki potential weak points.
Collins said the challenge was to find the mix between flair and finals rugby.
“We have been guilty of trying to play round-robin footy at semifinal time,” Collins said.
“They kick to the corners and wait for you to make a mistake – and they do it well. We have to keep the ball and be prepared to play that style of game.”
Centre Conrad Smith agreed the Hurricanes needed to learn from the Crusaders, but hinted that wouldn’t mean a conservative approach.
“We know our style. It’s what’s got us playing well in the latter half of this season. We’re aware of what our strengths are and we have play to them.”
In the loss to the Blues it was noticeable Hurricanes first five-eighth Willie Ripia rarely handled the ball from first phase, Collins, Masoe and Nonu instead crashing it up at first receiver.
It’s questionable whether the same tactic will work against the Crusaders’ more organised defence.
Ticket sales are slow, 12,000 unsold on Thursday night, but the match has the makings of a cracker. A semifinal exit would be an anti-climax before Deans begins his four-year term as Wallabies coach.
But it would be sweet for Cooper, Deans’ former assistant, the Hurricanes and their fans after three semifinals, but still no silverware.
Crusaders v Hurricanes, Christchurch,
Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Kade Poki, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Scott Hamilton, Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis, Mose Tuiali’i, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Ti’i Paulo, Ben Franks, Reuben Thorne, Nasi Manu, Kahn Fotuali’i, Stephen Brett, Sean Maitland.
Hurricanes: Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Willie Ripia, Piri Weepu, Chris Masoe, Scott Waldrom, Jerry Collins, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Tim Fairbrother, Andrew Hore (captain), John Schwalger.
Reserves: Hikawera Elliot, Neemia Tialata, Craig Clarke, Thomas Waldrom, Alby Mathewson, Jimmy Gopperth, Tamati Ellison.