Hurricanes title window is still open

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:33

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2018 - TEAM BY TEAM: In the seventh instalment of our 15-part build-up to the season we look at the Hurricanes. It will be followed by the rest of the New Zealand teams and then the Australian conference.

The title defence didn’t quite go the way the Hurricanes wanted in 2017. One decent half away from their third consecutive final, the Wellington-based franchise collapsed against the Lions conceding 34 second-half points to end their championship encore.

The team finished with a 12-3 record – one of their best ever - but they relinquished the top spot in the conference to the Crusaders and were swept by the Chiefs in their two derbies. It was a successful year, but it won’t satisfy those in the organisation who know that the team is in the middle of its greatest era – the time is now to win titles.

Having locked up Barrett for three years in 2016, re-signing Thomas Perenara last year for another four years was critical in retaining the team’s spine. Perenara and Barrett at 25 and 26-years-old respectively, hold the hopes of the franchise having held the starting halves positions since 2012.

While the World Rugby Player of the Year is in his prime, the Hurricanes have a decent chance. Barrett has transformed into Super Rugby’s most dangerous man over the last two seasons. It’s hard to believe in 2015 he had just two try assists - in the last two seasons he has the most of any player with 21.

Of greater concern will be how Dane Coles recovers from off-season surgery after being derailed in 2017 by injuries. If the 31-year-old can return to regular game time, the dynamic hooker will lead a pack that includes breakout star Vaea Fifita and hometown favourite Ardie Savea.

All Blacks debutant Asafo Aumua may see time off the bench if Coles isn’t healthy. The Hurricanes coaches will need to weigh up impact over stability when determining who gets the bench role, deciding whether or not to unleash Aumua or stick with the reliable Riccitelli.

Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape stole headlines in 2017 with their try-scoring feats, but it is easily forgotten that Matt Proctor was having a career year before having suffered an injury. All three will be back in a strong Canes midfield. Fullbacks Milner-Skudder and Jordie Barrett will be looking to come back stronger from injury, and no player has more riding on 2017 than Julian Savea.

The Hurricanes have an embarrassment of riches in the backs, the main concern will be whether the young pack can set the platform. A number of rising young players could be called upon to start – Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere and Reed Prinsep.

Unheralded players such as Brad Shields, James Blackwell, Chris Eves and Blade Thompson will provide valuable roles.

The Hurricanes will be tested this year, but if they don’t make the finals we will be shocked. Their toughest opponents will be the road trip to South Africa and the Crusaders.

2018 Predictions
NZ Conference Placing: Second
Player of the Year: Beauden Barrett
Rookie of the Year: Asafo Aumua
Breakout Player of the Year: Reed Prinsep
Best Signing: Gareth Evans
Super Rugby Placing: Semifinalists

Franchise History
Best finish: Champions in 2016
Worst finish: Eleventh in 2004 and 2013

Squad Movements

In: Asafo Aumua (Wellington), Jamie Booth (Manawatu), Finlay Christie (Chiefs), Murray Douglas (Rebels), Gareth Evans (Highlanders), Alex Fidow (Wellington), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Rebels), Sam Henwood (Counties Manukau), Johan Lowe (Hawke's Bay), Toby Smith (Rebels), Thomas Va'a (Wellington), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington), Ihaia West (Blues).

Out: Mark Abbott (Red Sparks), Pita Ahki (Connacht), Leni Apisai (Blues), Otere Black (Blues), James Broadhurst (retired), Geoffrey Cridge (Hawke's Bay), Callum Gibbins (Glasgow), Toa Halafihi (Lyon), Cory Jane (Brave Lupus), James O'Reilly (Wellington), Kylem O'Donnell (Taranaki), Hugh Renton (Hawke's Bay), Chris Smylie (North Harbour), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs), Loni Uhila (Clermont).

Squad: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Alex Fidow, Reg Goodes, Ben May, Toby Smith, Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, James Blackwell, Murray Douglas, Michael Fatialofa, Sam Lousi, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Gareth Evans, Vaea Fifita, Sam Henwood, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Blade Thomson, Jamie Booth, Finlay Christie, Thomas Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Thomas Va'a, Ihaia West, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Jonah Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea.

By Ben Smith, RugbyPass

* Don't miss the rest New Zealand Conference and also the Australian conference in the coming weeks.

Other previews:
* Lions
* Stormers
* Sharks
* Bulls
* Jaguares
* Crusaders

There are currently no matches being played
Sun, 18 February 2018
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs 15h00 Ricoh Arena
Dragons v Treviso 15h30 Rodney Parade
Mon, 19 February 2018
NMMU-Madibaz v Wits 14h45 Port Elizabeth
Maties v CUT-Ixias 16h30 Cape Town
UCT-Ikeys v Shimlas 16h30 Cape Town
NWU-Pukke v UJ 17h00 Potchefstroom
Fri, 23 February 2018
Dragons v Edinburgh 22h00 Rodney Parade
Highlanders v Blues 06h35 Dunedin
Rebels v Reds 08h45 Melbourne
Munster v Glasgow Warriors 19h00 Irish Independent Park
Leinster v Kings 19h35 RDS
Scarlets v Ulster 19h35 Parc y Scarlets
France v Italy 20h00 Paris
Sat, 24 February 2018
Sunwolves v Brumbies 04h15 Tokyo
Crusaders v Chiefs 06h35 Christchurch
Waratahs v Stormers 08h45 Allianz Park
Treviso v Connacht 12h00 Stadio Monigo
Bath v Sale Sharks 12h30 Recreation Ground
Lions v Jaguares 13h05 Johannesburg
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints 14h00 Sandy Park
Ireland v Wales 14h15 Aviva Stadium
Gloucester v Wasps 14h30 Kingsholm
Harlequins v Newcastle Falcons 15h00 Twickenham Stoop
Bulls v Hurricanes 15h15 Loftus Versfeld
Scotland v England 16h45 BT Murrayfield
Ospreys v Cheetahs 17h30 Liberty Stadium
Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Brumbies 0 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 0 0 0 0
Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0
Sunwolves 0 0 0 0 0
Rebels 0 0 0 0 0
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 0 0 0 0 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 0 0
Chiefs 0 0 0 0 0
Highlanders 0 0 0 0 0
Blues 0 0 0 0 0
Pool SA
Team P W D L Pts
Stormers 1 1 0 0 4
Lions 1 1 0 0 4
Sharks 1 0 0 1 1
Bulls 0 0 0 0 0
Jaguares 1 0 0 1 0