The two teams who will battle out Saturday nights SupeRugby final (is it a GRAND FINAL ?) have been the poor cousins or bastard children of New Zealand’s five SupeRugby franchises over the last 20 years. Think of Jon Snow, sent to guard the White Wall in shame and you have the Highlanders and Hurricanes performances year after year after year.
How that has changed, and while the general consensus of the Rugby public seems to be that this game is the Hurricanes to lose, we at Sportsfreak aren’t so sure, with a closer examination revealing a number of reasons why the Hurricanes can claim the all-important “underdogs” status leading into the game.
So here goes:
1. The Big Three. In Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Smith, the Highlanders have 3 players in the ‘best in the world’ category. Aaron Smith has simply been sensational in his last two outings and while his on-field mannerisms may not always please the Rugby purists with the crouching down at scrum time to point out illegalities to the referee and the incessant (and often needless) yapping/baiting of opposition players sometimes clouding the fastest pass and quickest feet in the game.
2. Banged up. Anyone watching last nights game could see that Beauden Barrett is clearly playing hurt with the all-important speed off the mark (his big upside) and kicking game severely impacted by his ongoing knee problem. Throw in injuries to game breakers Nehe Milner-Skudder, Cory Jane and the fourth best openside flanker in New Zealand (well according to the All Blacks selectors anyway) Ardie Savea and the Canes have some real issues on their hands with their increasing injury toll.
3. Home court. The Highlanders will not be worried at all about the trek to Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday night with memories of their victory there last year fresh-in-mind. Forget about this year’s romp at Napier and the more closer fought out 13-20 loss in the early rounds of SupeRugby – the Highlanders will really fancy their chances and will hold no fear of the Canes impressive record to date.
4. No pressure. The Highlanders really are a league of nations with many of their side ready to disembark to the four corners of New Zealand and overseas at the conclusion of the final (this in itself makes their success and in particular Jamie Josephs coaching efforts all the more spectacular). For them there will be no fear of a walk down Lambton Quay with the “choker” tag ready to be applied that will be in the back of the Hurricanes minds all of this week.
5. At law. If SupeRugby has taught us all nothing else heading into a Rugby World Cup it’s that big games often rest on the outcome of one or two refereeing decisions. Throw in the lottery that the TMO has now become and this game will likely come down to one or two interpretations ‘at law’. We just hope it doesn’t decide the outcome as occurred in Sydney twelve months ago.