AB coach Hansen expects ‘brutal’ Super Rugby final

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says that he is expecting this weekend’s Super
Rugby final between the Hurricanes and Highlanders “to be brutal”.

While Hansen admits that he is concerned that the battle for the Super Rugby
title could hurt New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup strength he says he would not
have it any other way.

The Hurricanes have 12 All Blacks in their squad while the Highlanders have
just five. With home advantage and more All Blacks in the squad the Hurricanes
are solid favourites to win the title.

Rugby romantics, however, are backing the Highlanders who field a band of rugby
nobodies with a never-say-die attitude.

In what will be an emotional encounter – neither side has previously won the
title – several senior players, including Hurricanes figureheads Conrad Smith
and Ma’a Nonu, will be playing their last Super Rugby match.

“It’s going to be a real brutal game,” said Hansen, whose finals’
experience as assistant coach of the champion Canterbury Crusaders in 2000 fuels
his trepidation about the risk of injury to key All Blacks ahead of the World
Cup beginning in September.

“Whilst I’m excited about it being two New Zealand teams, there is a little
bit of holding your breath because you don’t want any of those young men to
get injured – or anyone for that matter – but not the 17 because they are
earmarked to come in and play some of these Test matches that we’ve got to play
before we go to the World Cup.

“But watching the two teams play, it’s going to be brutal.”

“There’s no way you can expect anyone to hold back. You can’t. This is
a once in a lifetime opportunity for both teams. The emotion of it will play
a big part.”

The last two teams standing were the best-performing attacking sides in the
regular season with the Hurricanes heading the try-scoring list with 62, one
more than the Highlanders.

But championships are often won on defence where the ‘Canes were second best
to the Brumbies side in the regular season, but the Highlanders had the worst
defensive record of the top six qualifiers.

The Highlanders have since conceded only three tries as they outsmarted Chiefs
and Waratahs in the playoffs.

Defence coach Scott McLeod said they had a “big day” on Tuesday working
on a strategy to counter the Hurricanes.

“They’ve got threats across the park. You give them too much space and
they will make the most of that with their running, offloading and continuity
play. So we need to be able to shut that all down,” said McLeod.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of Ardie Savea, a central
figure in their attacking drive, who is suffering from a leg injury and has
been bracketed with Callum Gibbins for the seven jersey.

The winner will be the eighth franchise to wear the Super Rugby crown in the
20-year history of the tournament and the fourth from New Zealand following
the Canterbury Crusaders (seven championships), the Auckland Blues (three) and
Waikato Chiefs (two).

Three Australian sides have claimed the title – the Brumbies (two), the Waratahs
(one) and Reds (one). The Bulls (three) are the only winners from South Africa.

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