Wellington (AFP) – Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes are relishing the prospect of “brutal” clash with the Waikato Chiefs on Friday in what will be their first real test of the Super rugby season.
Ngani Laumape of the Wellington Hurricanes (R) is tackled by Hikaru Tamura of Sunwolves during their Super Rugby match, at Prince Chichibu Memorial stadium in Tokyo, on February 25, 2017 (AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura)
“It’s going to be a real scrap,” Hurricanes assistant coach Richard Watt said of the showdown between the only two sides to take maximum points from the first two rounds.
After scoring 24 tries and amassing 154 points against the Sunwolves and Melbourne Rebels, Watt said the Hurricanes were looking forward to the intensity of playing a top New Zealand side.
“The boys love these home games and they hate losing to each other,” he said, describing New Zealand derbies as “pretty brutal” affairs.
“You don’t even have to mention anything to the boys this week. They’re so up for this game.”
The Chiefs, who had to work hard for their wins over the Otago Highlanders and Auckland Blues, have received a boost this week with the return of flanker Sam Cane who will clash with his All Blacks understudy Ardie Savea.
While the battle of the New Zealand titans headlines round three, Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has taken a long-term view to tip South Africa’s Golden Lions as the likely winners of the competition.
The unbeaten Lions have sent a depleted squad to Argentina to play the Jaguares in the Africa 2 conference while Africa 1 leaders Western Stormers are away to the bottom-ranked Southern Kings.
The only other unbeaten side after two rounds, the Canterbury Crusaders, travel to Queensland to face the Reds on Saturday.
– Lions favoured –
Boyd believes the complicated Super rugby draw which sees the Lions avoid all the New Zealand sides during the conference phase should see the South Africans top the regular season and be set to host the final.
The Lions, beaten by the Hurricanes in last year’s final, are without five Springboks for their Jaguares match.
It was the banana-skin game for them last year when they were also under strength and lost to the Jaguares in the final pool match, costing them the top spot in the playoffs.
The Stormers should be untroubled in maintaining their unbeaten start to the season when they face the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Crusaders are expected to be too strong for the Reds in Brisbane.
The test for the Reds, up against an All Blacks-laden pack, is how they bounce back from their surprise loss to the Western Force last week.
“Every player should be highly motivated to compete for every minute of this game. It’s what you have to do against the Crusaders, because if you are not as relentless as they are, you are going to pay,” Reds coach Nick Stiles said.
Two years ago the Otago Highlanders were Super champions but this year they have been hard hit by injuries, are winless after two games and will be hard pressed to get on the board against the Auckland Blues.
Fresh from beating the Reds last week, the Force head to Canberra to play the ACT Brumbies who are trying to avoid a hat-trick of losses for the first time since 2011.
The Waratahs, with Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley still sidelined by concussion symptoms, are in South Africa against the Coastal Sharks while the Central Cheetahs are at home to the luckless Sunwolves.