Force v Hurricanes
Can the Force bounce back?
Last week was an unmitigated disaster for the Force. It is perplexing and vexing to consider how such a brilliant performance against the Waratahs could turn 180 degrees and morph into the dredge we witnessed last Friday. But there is always next week, and the Force welcomes the Wellington Hurricanes to the NIB in search of redemption. Can redemption be achieved?
The Hurricanes will travel with tremendous amounts of confidence and belief. They are just returning from a trip to South Africa that yielded them two wins from two and eight points. They exposed the one dimensional brutality of the Lions in the first week, and pretty much did the same to the Bulls in the following week.
The worrying thing for the Force is not so much the results that the Hurricanes achieved, but the style in which the achieved them. They absorbed whole periods of pressure and hit the South African sides hard on the counter attack. They are an offensively orientated side that donít rely on territorial kicking to the extent that many other Super rugby sides (including the Force) do. When they turn over a ball inside their twenty two, they look to counter attack with great width, knowing that the other side will have dropped back a number of players in anticipation of a clearing kick that never comes.
They are a murderously dangerous side on the counter attack, and when on song, can run sides ragged. They are an extremely fit and creative side, packed full of mercurial players that point blank refuse to play ABC rugby. To the neutral supporter or follower of Super rugby, they are a team that would be terribly easy to get behind. No matter what and no matter where they are on the field, and no matter how many points they are ahead or behind, they are going to take you on from everywhere at every opportunity.
They have a back row that is equally as good on the ground as with ball in hand, and a backline overflowing with attacking prowess. You may ask yourself, what is different this year than last year, where the played with infuriating naivety with only bursts of brilliance?
First of all they have sorted out their set piece. Itís not awe inspiring, but it can hold its own up to a point. And the Hurricanes management know that if they can even break level with opposition packs, they are in with a shout out wide. Maía Nonu has returned to the franchise and whereas previously he was nonchalant and careless at club level, he seems to be fit and motivated to do well this season. It must be a world cup year or something.
The Force can be under no illusions here. Stylistically, the Hurricanes are like chalk and cheese when compared to the Waratahs and the Reds, but in their own way, they are more dangerous and must be respected.
Michael Foley had a big job this week in trying to rejuvenate the players mentally, after what must have been a very downhearted. The good news is that there are leaders sprinkled among the 23 named that can provide steel and belligerence in equal measure.
The Forceís scrum was decimated yet again, but Pek Cowan has returned from injury and will surely stiffen the resolve of the beleaguered tight five. The Waratahs and Reds targeted the Force scrum and line out, but these areas are never focused upon by the Hurricanes traditionally, and may not be an issue for once.
Ebersohn sat back last week and waited for something to happen, and the game passed him by to some degree, but the selection of Zack Holmes is an attempt to inject the energy and attitude that was lacking.
Letís be real for a second, although the Force were well beaten by the Reds, it was on the back of a defeated forward pack and just one break away score when Marcel Brache missed a tackle. It wasnít as if the Force were porous in defence, and completely obliterated.
In the first two matches of the season, it was the tight five forwards that havenít lived up to expectations, but I donít believe that this is an area that the Hurricanes traditionally attack.
Now to my prediction:
The weather forecast is pretty good which will inevitably lead to attacking rugby. This will suit the Hurricanes. I believe they will invite the Force onto them and look for Coles and Ardie Savea to bide their time and strike when some of the less effective ball carriers attempt to truck it up. If they succeed, look to the likes of Cory Jane and Julian Savea to try and get on the end of broken field moves that span the length of the field.
The Force are more or less at full strength or as close as makes no difference. For the first time this season they are facing a forward pack that doesnít outsize them or even look to take them on at all. The shoe could potentially be on the other foot.
For me though, the woeful performance of some of the forwards last week is too fresh in the memory, and the feeling is that the Hurricanes will capitalize on any mistake made to the maximum. They have the quality and pace to punish any error or infraction, and in Nonu and Barrett they have world beaters with massive advantages in experience and ability when compared to their opposite numbers.
The Force will be brave and committed and I believe Foley will coax a performance out of his side, but enough for a victory? I donít think so.
Hurricanes by 5
Over and out,