Hurricanes favourites to claim first Super Rugby title
A new name will be engraved on the Super Rugby trophy on Saturday night when the Hurricanes and Highlanders clash at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Both sides are coming off impressive semi-final victories over Australian opponents. The Wellington based Hurricanes easily accounted for the Brumbies while the Dunedin based Highlanders upset last year’s champions, the Waratahs, in Sydney.
It’s only fitting that the two best performing teams of the home and away season are playing off in the decider, however it’s hard to look past the hosts when picking a winner. The ‘Canes have been an imposing force throughout 2015, losing just two matches on the way to topping the competition ladder by a staggering 13 points. Their scintillating attack has been a feature of their performances, and a look through their highlight reel will see many long distance tries showcasing pinpoint passing and quick offloads. Backline superstars in Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara benefit from the strong work up front from powerful forwards Dane Coles, Victor Vito and James Broadhurst.
As classy as these players are, there is no doubting the influence of the devastating Savea brothers. Julian, dubbed the next Jonah Lomu a few years ago, beats defenders for fun and his 192cm, 103kg frame puts fear into the eyes of any opposition winger. His younger brother Ardie is just as imposing. Tackle busts, line breaks and offloads are all a feature of the explosive younger sibling.
The Hurricanes, like the entire rugby world, were rocked by the death of former player Jerry Collins last month. The players had the initials ‘JC’ embroidered on their sleeves for their semi-final win and he is clearly in the forefront of their minds. One more clinical showing would be a perfect tribute to the immensely popular Collins.
As good as the Hurricanes have been this year, don’t underestimate their opponents. The Highlanders have been very consistent performers and showed last week they are capable of an upset away from home.
The visitors will be out to spoil the party in New Zealand’s capital and inspirational captain Ben Smith will as always be heavily involved to will his team to victory. He will gain good assistance from fly-half Lima Sopoaga and the competitions’ leading try scorer Waisake Naholo.
All Blacks’ Aaron Smith has proved that he is the best scrum-half going around. His darting runs, kicking game and vision will pose a threat to the home side, and the Hurricanes will have to contain the visitors’ underrated forward pack if they are to negate Smith’s influence.
There is no doubt this is going to be a classic. Both sides play entertaining rugby that is easy on the eye. Apart from the World Cup final in October, if there is one rugby match you watch all year, make sure this is it.