PREVIEW: Hurricanes v Chiefs

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 15:41

SUPER RUGBY SEMIFINALS: Chris Boyd believes the Chiefs are a slightly different team now than when Hurricanes played them back in April.

The two teams will face each other in a mouth-watering semifinal at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington and Hurricanes head coach Boyd believes they can't read too much into their 27-28 loss to the same opponents back in Round Nine.

On that occasion the Hurricanes were the dominant side throughout the 80 minutes, but they also failed to convert a number of opportunities in that match.

"We've looked at that [this week] and at the last half-a-dozen games of the Chiefs, as they would've done with us," Boyd told the Dominion Post.

"They're playing slightly differently than they did then and so are we, so it's a different contest." 

Despite finishing on top of the combined Super Rugby standings and thrashing the Sharks in the quarterfinals, the Hurricanes do not does not see themselves as favourites.

"I mean we're reasonably optimistic, as are the Highlanders, but I think the Chiefs are the most optimistic side in the competition and you give them half a chance on the crumbs that get spilt [and] they'll punish you for them. So our ability to scramble on defence and tidy up those crumbs is going to be crucial," Boyd said.

Meanwhile, Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie believes the momentum is all with the Hurricanes ahead of the big showdown.

"They've been impressive the last few weeks, obviously beating the Crusaders then beating the Sharks as well, so obviously a bit of momentum for them," McKenzie told stuff.co.nz. "But hopefully we can go down there and stop it this weekend, it'd be nice."

The semifinal will also be McKenzie's biggest match of his career after the Waikato side fell short at the quarterfinal stages last year.

"Obviously we got knocked out in the quarters last year, so first time in a Super Rugby semifinal, so it'll be a massive occasion, probably a sell-out crowd in Wellington," McKenzie added.

Players to watch:

For the Hurricanes: Flyhalf Beauden Barrett was outstanding against the Sharks and it will be interesting to see if he can dominate the game against stronger opposition. In the second row, Michael Fatialofa and Vaea Fifita have both been revelations this season, while prop Loni Uhila is almost unstoppable when he builds up a head of steam with ball in hand.

For the Chiefs: You just cannot ignore the impressive Damian McKenzie. He is the most dangerous player in Super Rugby with ball in hand at the moment. Wing James Lowe is another player that can create something out of nothing on attack. Up front, Tom Sanders brings some much needed physicality, while lock Brodie Retallick is just a class act in all facets of the game.

Head to head: In the backline, the showdown between the two world-class pivots, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, is worth the ticket alone. In the forwards, we have two very contrasting second rows. Michael Fatialofa and Vaea Fifita both have great ball handling skills and speed, while Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird are more the bruiser types.

Prediction: The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 11 games against the Chiefs on home turf, though they lost their last such encounter by one point in Round Nine earlier this season. The Hurricanes have lost all six of their play-off games against fellow New Zealand teams in Super Rugby, including a 10-14 defeat to the Chiefs in 2009. The Chiefs have previously contested four semifinals in Super Rugby history, winning each of the last three. Each of the Chiefs' last four away games in New Zealand have been won by the team trailing at half-time. The Hurricanes have scored more than twice as many points as they've conceded in their last six Super Rugby games (197-88), of which they have won all of them. Aaron Cruden has 15 try assists this season, more than any other player in the competition; however, the last of these came back in May. The Hurricanes have a points difference of +99 in the final 20 minutes of their games this season, the best figure of any team. 55 percent of the Hurricanes' tries this season have come from first phase possession, the highest rate in the competition. Beauden Barrett (193) and Damian McKenzie (190) are both within reach of becoming the first and second players this season to score 200 points. Ardie Savea made 11 tackles in the opening weekend of the finals to take his season tally to 176, second only behind the Chiefs' Sam Cane (180). This will be a tight contest - expect the Hurricanes to edge it by five points or less.

@rugby365com

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