Preview: Crusaders v Hurricanes
SUPER RUGBY SEMIFINAL: Hurricanes playmaker Beauden Barrett is under pressure to outshine his All Black rival Richie Mo’unga on Saturday.
He is a key player for the Hurricanes in their face-off against the Crusaders and must reverse his team’s woeful form against the defending champions.
The Hurricanes are considered rank outsiders in Christchurch against the Crusaders, who boast a squad bristling with All Blacks as they chase a third straight title and 10th overall.
It’s a frustrating situation for the Hurricanes – a side that won more matches than any other this season and features a two-time world player of the year in Barrett.
Yet such has been the South Islanders’ dominance over the Hurricanes in recent years that the men from New Zealand’s capital find themselves practically written off by bookies and pundits before a ball has been kicked in anger.
The teams have met five times previously in finals matches and the Crusaders have won all of them, including a semifinal last year and the title decider in 2006.
The Crusaders have also convincingly won their four most recent matches against the Hurricanes, including a 32-8 thrashing when they last met in March.
That’s without even taking into account the Crusaders’ daunting home record in Christchurch, where they have not lost a playoff in Super Rugby’s 23-year history and are currently on a 28-game unbeaten run.
Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O’Gara said he was relishing the match-up between Barrett and Mo’unga, who is challenging the Hurricanes maestro for an All Black starting spot.
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O’Gara said that while Barrett had the advantage of incumbency in the flyhalf’s number 10 jersey, Mo’unga did not lack motivation with a World Cup in Japan looming.
“[Mo’unga’s] been on top of his game for a long time,” said the Irishman, who earned 128 Test caps at flyhalf.
“He’s looking to dethrone Beaudy, but Beaudy has the advantage of being a superstar at Test level. I think Richie can get to that space, so it makes for an exciting game.”
Mo’unga has nine Test caps, with only two starts, compared to 73 caps and 40 starts for Barrett.
But Mo’unga’s Crusaders are four wins against one loss over Barrett’s Hurricanes in the last five matches when both have started, fuelling calls for him to be given a greater role at Barrett’s expense.
O’Gara freely admits that the Crusaders’ recent success against the Hurricanes stems from shutting down the halves pairing of Barrett and Thomas Perenara, who last week played their 100th Super Rugby match together.
It’s no coincidence that the last team to beat the Crusaders at home, way back in 2016, was a Hurricanes outfit that had Barrett and Perenara firing on all cylinders.
O’Gara said the hosts’ forward pack – which at full strength consists entirely of established All Blacks – was the key to denying Barrett time on the ball.
“For that to happen you need to win up front, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“If you win the collisions and if you win the gain line, no matter how good you are as a number 10 your time is diminished significantly. Our boys have done a good job in that regard in previous campaigns.
“But when the ball is in Beauden Barrett’s hands it’s not a good sign for any opposition.”
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said the team has shown the Hurricanes plenty of respect with their preparation.
“We’ve really enjoyed this week, the group came in excited to have earned another opportunity to play at home, and we’ve prepared accordingly for this quality Hurricanes side,” Robertson said.
“They’re well-coached, with genuine attacking threats across the park, so we know there is a massive challenge ahead of us this weekend.”
Meanwhile, hugely popular scrumhalf Thomas Perenara will become the most capped Hurricanes player.
Perenara will go ahead of former Hurricanes teammates Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith when he makes his 127th appearance, eight seasons after he made his debut against the Stormers in Cape Town.
Coach John Plumtree said it was fantastic for Perenara to bring up such an important milestone in such a significant match.
“Thomas has been a remarkable player and leader for the Hurricanes for such a long time and we know he shows that every time he goes out with the jersey on,” he said.
“He will relish the challenge of going down to play the Crusaders and having a chance to play in a Super Rugby final. As a group, we are all excited about the opportunity to go up against a side with such a proven history.”
The winner of Saturday’s all-New Zealand clash will face either the Brumbies or Jaguares in the Final.
2019: Crusaders won 32-8, Wellington
2019: Crusaders won 38-22, Christchurch
2018: Crusaders won 30-12, Christchurch (semifinal)
2018: Crusaders won 24-13, Christchurch
2018: Hurricanes won 29-19, Wellington
2017: Hurricanes won 31-22, Wellington
2017: Crusaders won 20-12, Christchurch
2016: Hurricanes won 35-10, Christchurch
2015: Crusaders won 35-18, Nelson
2015: Hurricanes won 29-23, Wellington
Road to the play-offs
Prediction: The Crusaders have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Hurricanes; the only previous time either team managed to win more games in succession in this fixture was a seven-game stretch for the Crusaders from 2005 to 2008. This will be the sixth finals meeting between the Crusaders and Hurricanes in Super Rugby, the Crusaders have won each of the previous five by an average margin of 20 points per game. The Crusaders have won their last seven post-season games in succession in Super Rugby; only once in the competition’s history has any team won more (nine – Crusaders from 1998 to 2003). The Crusaders are undefeated in their last 29 Super Rugby games on home turf (28 wins and one draw); their last defeat in such a fixture came in Round 17, 2016 against the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have won only one of their nine previous play-off games away from home in Super Rugby, with five of their eight defeats in that span coming at the hands of the Crusaders. The Hurricanes have won their last four New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby despite leading at half-time only twice in that time. The Crusaders have scored more points (33), made more carries (126), gained more metres (506), and made more clean breaks (15) per game than any other team in Super Rugby 2019. The Hurricanes have conceded just five tries within the final quarter of games this Super Rugby season, fewer than any other team in the competition. Sevu Reece (Crusaders) has made 36 clean breaks in Super Rugby 2019, eight more than any other player in the competition and 14 more than Hurricanes’ best Jordie Barrett (22). The Hurricanes’ Ardie Savea has won 28 turnovers this Super Rugby campaign, five more than any other player in the competition and 11 more than Crusaders’ best Matt Todd (17).
Margin: 13 points
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua*, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Salesi Rayasi, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Ben May, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Richard Judd, 22 James Marshall, 23 Jonah Lowe.
Date: Saturday, June 29
Venue: Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, additional reporting by AFP & AAP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports