Rodney So’oialo says South Africa’s Super 14 sides are setting the pace because they are playing a style closer to the Australasian brand.
As the Hurricanes started preparations yesterday to play the unbeaten Bulls in Wellington this Friday, So’oialo said they had become tougher to play in recent seasons.
“Australia has always been a similar style of play to New Zealand rugby, and I think Africa is catching up in that area,” the Hurricanes skipper said yesterday.
“They are [playing more of a New Zealand style], especially in the backs. They’ve been playing us for 100 years, so it’s about time they caught on. They’ve got a few New Zealand coaches there and with technology … they were always going to get better.”
The All Blacks No 8 said the South African forwards had always been one of the toughest challenges in the game, but the backs were now getting and using the ball more often.
“They’ve always been good [athletes], but I think they are only starting to recognise what they have. Like any other team, you utilise your strengths.
“You go back to the whole South African squad and they are a very talented team and they certainly know how to play the game … with that added size it makes them tough to beat.”
The Bulls arrive in Wellington today as the competition’s equal leading try-scorers with the Hurricanes, each team having crossed 13 times in four games and both coming off a bye.
So’oialo wasn’t commenting on reports that he will sign until the end of 2011 with the New Zealand Rugby Union on Wednesday.
But he was happy to discuss the start of what he believes will be “mentally” the toughest section of the Hurricanes campaign. “We’ve had a good break and the break probably came at the right time. The guys got the chance to regroup and get the bodies right.
“But in saying that, we have the Bulls this week, and they are a tough team, and then it’s three weeks away, two games in Africa, one in Perth. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.”
It was an almost fully fit Hurricanes side that fronted up for fitness testing yesterday, with hooker Andrew Hore successfully having had two pins removed from his ankle.
Fullback Cory Jane is the only player still under an injury cloud after sitting out the past two games with an ankle ligament injury that dogged him through the preseason before flaring up in round two against the Highlanders.
The All Blacks custodian said he was hopeful he’d be available for the Bulls match, but not sure whether he’d be able to reclaim his jersey from fill-in Tamati Ellison.
“I’ll be running today. It’s a little bit sore, but compared to what it was, it was terrible back then. I haven’t done any running for a few weeks, I’ve been stuck on the grinder, but I’ll get out there and hopefully it’s good.
“Now it’s just getting into the 22. He [Ellison] is Mr Fixit, he can fit into any position and it’s good he’s playing well.
“Obviously, even if you’re out, you want the team to win.”
Coach Colin Cooper will name his side tomorrow.
Toby Robson, The Dominion Post / www.rugbyheaven.com.auTweet