Hurricanes can take over the top with a win   21 Mar 2006

Ellie van Baaren

The Blues came through to topple the previously unbeaten Brumbies, while the Hurricanes won with another late surge, the Highlanders began their customary descent and the Crusaders just kept on trucking. ELLIE VAN BAAREN takes a look at round six of the Super 14.

Well, maybe it was my heartfelt "go the Blues" in last week’s paper, but the Blues did what many, especially the Brumbies’ new coach, thought they couldn’t – they rediscovered their winning ways and downed the previously unbeaten Canberra side. Someone had a lot of egg on their face when last Saturday rolled around that’s for sure.

The Blues targeted the Brumbies’ lineout, denying them the platform for their attack, looking to keep the ball in the air rather than risk falling prey to the spoiling tactics of George Smith. It was much more a performance of the Blues of old and a welcome return to the winner’s circle for the embattled Auckland side.

With several major injury concerns blighting the side’s progress, the news that Luke McAlister is expected to pass his fitness test on Friday will be welcome as they head off to take on the side that took the Brumbies’ place on the table, the Waratahs.

The NSW side can overtake the Crusaders at the top of the table by beating the Blues as the Canterbury side have a bye this week. The Waratahs were the latest side to thrash the woeful Reds, a team that has been ravaged by injury, beating them 32-7 in Brisbane.

The Blues will face the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

The Hurricanes also have the chance to overtake the Crusaders if they win their clash with the Sharks in Wellington on Friday. The Canes needed a late surge from an Andrew Hore try to beat the Bulls in Pretoria at the weekend, finally winning 26-23 after trailing for most of the match.

We’re not even half way through the competition, but it seems the Hurricanes are determined to hold on to their form all the way through to the final four. The side has been more composed and mature than in the past few years proved by captain Rodney So’oialo’s decision in the dying minutes of the team’s last two games to kick for touch rather than go for the penalty.

In both cases, So’oialo’s men ended up triumphant. His comment both times has been that the team’s patience paid off, and he’s right. The Hurricanes of old had a tendency to freak out when finding themselves behind with just minutes to play – usually ending up throwing the ball away or conceding soft last minute tries. However, this new incarnation puts their collective head down, sticks to the game plan and ends up delivering the goods.

With the inspirational Umaga out of the game for the moment, the leadership of So’oialo and his group of senior players has to be commended. This was the Hurricanes’ first win against the Bulls side from four attempts.

Just when we thought the Highlanders might be turning over a new leaf, the team began its familiar decline. After winning their first two matches on their South African tour, the Southerners fell to their second successive loss and the most painful thing was the fact their opponents were spearheaded by one of their own – Tony Brown.

The former golden boy of Otago rugby, Brown returned to his old stomping ground and proceeded to play a pivotal part in his new team’s much-needed win. He kicked three penalties and a conversion and his tactical kicking helped keep the Highlanders pinned in their own half for much of the second spell.

The final score was 26-11 to the South African side and the Highlanders were left to ready themselves for their final South African opponent, the Cats, who they face in Invercargill.

There’s not too much to say about the Crusaders. The only unbeaten side in the competition, the Canterbury team needed the injection of captain Richie McCaw and All Black Chris Jack from the bench to ensure the win, but they’re now sitting pretty and facing a bye for round seven.


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