Hurricanes fans – how’s this for starters? On Friday in Takapuna your team will play the Blues in their second and final pre-season match. It’s probably fair to say they have a few things to work on after losing 40-19 to the Crusaders in Ashburton yesterday.
The Blues players, meanwhile, will be looking forward to a rare visit to Onewa Domain (their only game on the North Shore this year as, rather than playing at North Harbour Stadium, they will host the Jaguares in Northland in April) after beating the Chiefs 26-19 in Waihi in their first hit-out.
A day after the match the Hurricanes will fly to Cape Town to play the Stormers in their opening game before considering more long-haul travel to get to Buenos Aires to play the Jaguares a week later.
If it wasn’t already evident, this has the makings of a very difficult season for their new head coach Jason Holland, a man who got the gig after former boss John Plumtree was appointed one of new All Blacks coach Ian Foster’s assistants.
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It was always going to be that way once Barrett announced he was joining the Blues but loose forward Savea’s injury is a massive blow and the opening two matches in South Africa and Argentina a week apart could hardly have been more challenging.
One victory from those two would have to be considered a fair return and while the Hurricanes have it a little easier when they are back in New Zealand; the Sharks in Wellington and Sunwolves in Napier, they then go on a run of three derbies against the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders.
The first few rounds are likely to be played out in blazing summer heat – the Blues kick things off against the Chiefs at Eden Park on the absurdly early date of January 31 – but that’s likely to be relatively kind compared with what is Holland’s baptism of fire.
Pre-season matches count for little as far as results go but another big loss against the Blues will do little for the Hurricanes’ confidence and should the skids go under their season it will be very difficult to pull it back without an experienced driver at 10.
“We need to be more efficient around our carry and our cleanout and our breakdown,” Holland told reporters in Ashburton after his side let slip a 12-0 lead against the Crusaders.
“That’s a big area around us getting momentum and being able to play. The Crusaders slowed our ball down a lot today. That’s a little bit around our attacking shape and what we do there and just around a bit of mongrel at the breakdown.”
It was a similar story in Sydney where the Highlanders let slip a 14-0 lead to the Waratahs to lose 40-21. It was former Canterbury coach Rob Penney’s first game in charge of the Sydneysiders and an indication perhaps that he may bring a new steel to what is generally an underachieving franchise.
“I’m rapt with the calibre of talent that is there and it has just reinforced to me how far this group could go,” Penney said.
The Stormers face one of the kinder Super Rugby draws this year:
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