Hurricanes prepare for seven-time champions

Getty Images     28 Jun 2012     Getty Images

The Hurricanes and Crusaders meet at the new AMI Stadium in Addington, after a three-week international break in which leading players from both squads took part in the All Blacks’ three-Test series against Ireland.

Both sides are coming off wins in their previous matches on the weekend of 1-2 June and with playoff spots up for grabs for both, this looms as a crucial New Zealand Conference fixture.

In their last match in Sydney against the Waratahs, the Hurricanes earned a bonus point 33-12 victory. In wet, slippery conditions, replacement halfback Chris Eaton scored their fourth try off a lineout near the corner flag with the last play of the game.

The five competition points lifted the Hurricanes to 45 points on the Super Rugby ladder, leapfrogging the Highlanders into third on the New Zealand conference standings and to sixth overall.

With one additional win than the Hurricanes, the Crusaders are on 51 points, placing them fourth overall and second in the New Zealand conference behind the leaders the Chiefs on 58.

In their last match, the Crusaders defeated the Highlanders 51-18 at home at Christchurch, outscoring their South Island neighbours seven tries to two.

The Hurricanes and the Crusaders are meeting for the second time this year, with the Crusaders winning 42-14 in Wellington in round eight in April. They are also playing each other in Christchurch for the first time since 2009, with the Hurricanes winning that match 30-24. Since then, the Crusaders have drawn one and won 15 consecutive matches in Christchurch so the Hurricanes are the last team the Crusaders lost to in Christchurch.

With much at stake, this 21st Super Rugby clash between the Hurricanes and the Crusaders promises to be as hard fought as any other gone before it.

Tight battles up front, big defence around the fringes and explosiveness out wide have long been associated with these matches, which are always as absorbing as they are thrilling.

Although up to several frontline players on both sides could be missing from this clash - including halfback TJ Perenara who broke his ankle in their recent 36-7 win over the Reds north of Brisbane on 15 June - both are stacked with game-breakers.

Exactly half of the 42 tries that the Hurricanes have scored against the Crusaders have been run in from either the wing or fullback position. These include seven tries scored by Christian Cullen, three by Brent Ward, three by Jonah Lomu, two by Lome Fa'atau and Zac Guildford (now a Crusader) and one each to Alex Telea, Hosea Gear Ma’a Nonu and most recently fullback Andre Taylor.

Taylor (10 tries) is the 2012 competition’s leading try scorer to date, while left wing and new All Black Julian Savea has scored seven tries. Amongst the Crusaders, Guildford has run in six tries, centre Robbie Fruean six and fullback Israel Dagg four.

Hurricanes first five-eighth Beauden Barrett, who made his All Blacks debut on Saturday against Ireland, has scored 171 points and is third only to the Bulls’ Morne Steyn (193 points) and the Chiefs’ Aaron Cruden (181). In an expected close match, his likely tussle off the kicking tee with Tom Taylor (123) could be crucial.

In some expected key match-ups in the forwards, hooker Dane Coles is likely to meet Corey Flynn, a similarly styled hard working player, likely Hurricanes locking duo Jason Eaton and Jeremy Thrush could come up against All Blacks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano and Hurricanes flanker Faiflli Levave could line up against George Whitelock at six in a battle of the loose forward defenders. Hurricanes fans can expect a big game from Crusaders loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett who will be playing his 100th Super Rugby match, if selected.

Saturday’s encounter against the Crusaders is one of two remaining matches for the Hurricanes before the playoff series begins on the weekend of 20-21 July.

The Hurricanes’ final regular season match is against the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday 13 July. They have their second bye in between next weekend.

Hurricanes v Crusaders by the numbers:
•In total, the Hurricanes have scored 405 points against the Crusaders (including 42 tries) and the Crusaders have scored 617 points against the Crusaders (including 68 tries).
•Saturday’s match-up will be the 21st meeting between these two sides in the history of the Super Rugby competition, a rivalry that sees the Crusaders being the most frequently played opposition for the Hurricanes over the history of the competition. This includes three semi-finals and one final.
•The Hurricanes’ record for most tries in a match against the Crusaders is five, at Christchurch in 2001; the Crusaders’ record for most tries in a match against the Hurricanes is seven, at Wellington in 2002.