Preview: S14 Round 13, Part One

It would be stating the obvious to say we are at the business end of the Super 14 competition. The play-off permutations are manyfold and it adds to the entertainment value of the last few weeks of league action.

From here on every game will, in one way or another, have an influence on the final outcome of the play-off places.

The weekend’s action starts in Wellington on Friday when the Hurricanes and Highlanders – two teams on the periphery of the play-off scene – go head-to-head. It is a simple scenario – the loser is out of the race, the winner retains a mathematical chance of reaching the last four.

That game is followed by the Waratahs hosting the Chiefs in Sydney. Again, the scenario is simple: the Chiefs must win to stay in the hunt, but only this time the opposition – the Waratahs – are playing for pride only.

The Western Force, one of the dark horses, host the Cheetahs – a team out of the running. And Friday’s action is completed when the Bulls and the Blues go head-to-head in a game that could be vital for either side’s prospects of securing home ground advantage in the play-offs.

We look at the Friday matches in Week 13!

Friday, 27 April:

Hurricanes v Highlanders
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 19.35 (07.35 GMT)

This game is a shining example of how there is always something worth playing for in the Super 14 tournament.

These two teams no longer have their Super 14 destinies in their own hands. Their possible participation is depended on other results going their way – although it also requires them to continue winning.

However, what is interesting in this game is that they are playing to avoid being the worst New Zealand team in the tournament, a fact that has not slipped by the two teams unnoticed.

It means they are playing for pride as much as anything else.

“It’s more important than anything else now,” Hurricanes squad member Luke Andrews said this week.

“It’s always a good challenge to beat the other New Zealand teams and nobody wants to finish last, we basically want to finish with good memories of the Hurricanes.”

Highlanders captain Josh Blackie also spoke of “pride” when he was asked to assess the game.

“Both teams will be out to finish in the top six of the competition, there’s a lot of pride at stake,” said Blackie,

Although the Hurricanes could miss out on a semi-final spot for the first time in three years, they will be hoping to finish their season on a winning note at home, against the Highlanders, and against the Waratahs next Saturday.

Overall the Hurricanes are slightly ahead of the ledger in head to head clashes with the Highlanders, having won six previous clashes to the visitors’ five.

The Hurricanes have been unable to reproduce the winning streaks that got them into the play-offs last year, while the Highlanders have been simply too erratic.

Not even the return of their six reconditioned World Cup All Blacks could put the Hurricanes back on track.

They often got off to bad starts in games and then, while playing catch-up rugby, performed as individuals, rather than a unit.

The Highlanders’ biggest problem is that outside of their world class front row – Carl Hayman, Anton Oliver and Clarke Dermody – and their classy halfbacks, Nick Evans and Jimmy Cowan, they have very little else in terms of quality and depth.

Prediction: In Wellington this year the Hurricanes have been a different proposition – losing only to the Stormers and beating top four teams like the Bulls and Blues, as well as the title chasing Brumbies. The Highlanders will give them a good run for their money, but the Hurricanes should win. The Hurricanes by 10 to 15 points.


Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Tana Umaga, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Shannon Paku, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 P

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