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High-flying Hurricanes must be on red alert in Melbourne

By Tom Vinicombe
Peter Umaga-Jensen. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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The Hurricanes are looking forward to facing a “new brand of footy” when they take on the Reds in Melbourne this weekend.

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After nine rounds of New Zealand derbies, the Hurricanes – and the rest of the Kiwi sides – will get their first taste of their rivals across the ditch in the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific Super Round, which will see all five matches from the weekend hosted in the city many consider the sporting capital of the world.

The Hurricanes have managed just three wins in their eight matches to date, besting Moana Pasifika and the Highlanders (twice) while falling shorting against the other three New Zealand teams. Saturday’s match-up with the Reds will present a reprieve of sorts – although no one in the camp is suggesting that the team sitting fourth overall on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder will be easy beats.

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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.
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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.

“Obviously we’ve been playing New Zealand teams for the last wee while ad it’ll be enjoyable to go over to Australia and play the Ozzies,” Hurricanes flanker Blake Gibson said of the occasion.

“I think it’s a pretty cool experience to have,” added No 12 Peter Umaga-Jensen. “It’ll be exciting to get a new brand of footy chucked at us.”

Gibson – who transferred from the Blues at the beginning of the year – will be making his fifth start for the Hurricanes on the openside flank while Umaga-Jensen has had to share opportunities with the likes of Billy Proctor, Bailyn Sullivan, Julian Savea and most recently, Jordie Barrett in the midfield.

Gibson will be going head-to-head with fastidious fetcher Fraser McReight while Umaga-Jensen will be partnering Sullivan and lining up against a strong combination of Hamish Stewart and Wallaby Hunter Paisami.

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Although the Reds won’t be able to call on the talents of Liam Wright, James O’Connor and Jordan Petaia for the match, they still boast powerhouses such as Paisami, Taniela Tupou and Harry Wilson and will offer plenty of attacking threats on Saturday evening.

“The Reds are big, physical players so they’ll look to dominate us up front and at the set-piece but they also have some players that can really break the game open,” Gibson said of the challenge facing the Hurricanes.

“Nullifying their set-piece and obviously their big ball carriers [will be the goal], we know they’re tough to stop when they get their big players into the game and get a roll on.”

Umaga-Jensen backed Gibson’s take on the Queenslanders but added that the Hurricanes have a bit of “razzle” of their own.

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In Sullivan and Umaga-Jensen, the Hurricanes possess a lethal attacking combination in the midfield while Julian Savea and Wes Goosen have both been in good form on the wings. Throw in the likes of Jordie Barrett, TJ Perenara and up-and-coming flyhalf Aidan Morgan, and it’s hard to find fault with Umaga-Jensen’s assessment of the Hurricanes’ offense. Altogether this season, the Hurricanes have scored 31 tries – the second-most of any team in the competition – including 11 over their last two games.

Although things haven’t all been going smoothly for the Hurricanes, they’re now sitting on two victories on the trot – but Gibson says they’re not getting too far ahead of themselves following their wins over Moana Pasifika and the Highlanders.

“We know we can be a lot better than what we did play last week,” he said. “We probably kept them in the game for too long and it came down to the wire at the end. We know we’ve got to be a lot better than that and look after the ball and when we look after the ball we can score lots of tries.”

The Hurricanes’ clash with the Reds is set to kick off at 7:45pm AEST (9:45pm NZT) on Saturday evening.

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