JOHANNESBURG – A little bit of history and some sentiment will come in handy as motivation, but Hurricanes captain Dane Coles believes his team will have to go out and play some “footie” if they are to overcome the Lions in their Super Rugby semi-final on Saturday.
There is the ugly piece of history that the Lions won’t want to talk about but the Hurricanes will thrive on, as the New Zealanders have lost just once to a South African franchise in a decade, while Coles will be making his 100th appearance for the defending champions at Ellis Park.
For the Hurricanes, this could prove to be the perfect ingredients to get themselves in their third consecutive final, but Coles is wary of the danger the Lions will pose as he considers them the best team in the competition.
“There is always history there, but we haven’t talked about it all week. Obviously the travel is a big factor and we’ve been trying to recover well and get ourselves into the best shape come Saturday.
“The Lions deserve to have a home semi-final because they’ve been the best team in the competition, in my eyes.
“Hopefully history repeats itself, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a game of ‘footie’, and all those other factors don’t come into play. It will be about going out and playing some ‘footie’, and both teams will be right up for it,” Coles said this week.
Coles, though, almost didn’t get to lead his team out on Saturday afternoon after suffering from concussion in the fourth round, which saw him miss playing for the All Blacks in the drawn series against the British and Irish Lions.
Fortunately for the New Zealanders, Coles is as fit as a fiddle and relishing the prospect of playing in one of his favourite stadiums, where he has previously delivered some standout performances for the All Blacks.
“It’s been a big couple of weeks and I didn’t think I would be able to get here this year, but I’m very humbled and honoured that I get a chance to play 100 games for a club that I love. It is also awesome to be playing it in a semi-final against the Lions at such an iconic stadium like Ellis Park, with a lot of history and a great side we are playing against.”
Coles will make his first start after returning from injury in one of the two changes to the team that beat the Brumbies last week, with Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd pulling a rabbit out of the hat by retaining wing Wes Goosen ahead of All Black wing Julian Savea, who drops to the bench.
A recovery day well spent. Despite being 5 holes down in match play I managed to win this one! Par 3 12th 183m, 6 Iron hole in #1 pic.twitter.com/x7Dm2ej8oy
In the other change, the competition’s top try-scorer Vince Aso returns from a groin injury to bolster an already star-studded backline at centre, with Jordie Barrett moving to the more familiar position of fullback and Nehe Milner-Skudder shifting to wing.
The Hurricanes have the personnel and history on their side and a captain to play for, but it is in Coles’ words that the outcome of tomorrow’s encounter will be decided by what transpires between the four white lines in 80 minutes.
“We need to start well and be a lot more accurate, that is what we have been concentrating on. Discipline is going to be a huge factor, but I have trust in the boys that they have been doing a good job all year.
“We haven’t gotten to the semi-final by fluke, and I have trust in the lads that they will make the right choices.”
Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Sam Lousi, Mark Abbott, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles (captain), Ben May.
Bench: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Otere Black, Julian Savea.