WELLINGTON – Five talking points after the Super Rugby semi-final line-ups were decided at the weekend:
Crusaders by the All Blacks numbers
When it comes to big match experience, few packs can match the Canterbury Crusaders as the Sharks found out on Saturday.
And it could be an even more powerful pack that faces the Wellington Hurricanes next weekend with the expected return of Joe Moody.
The 34-Test prop missed the 40-10 quarter-final victory over the Sharks because of a knee injury but coach Scott Robertson indicated he was likely to be available, lifting the number of Test caps in the Crusaders' pack to 405 among seven players led by Kieran Read with 109. Sam Whitelock has 99 and Owen Franks 98.
The Hurricanes fielded just two international forwards when beating the Waikato Chiefs 32-31 - Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Brad Shields with three caps between them.
Despite their wealth of talent, the Crusaders lost four of their own lineouts and suffered eight turnovers.
“You have to be 'on' - we know that,” said Robertson, who called for improvement. “You have to be absolutely 'on'.”
Boyd counts on 'real Hurricanes'
The Crusaders may be red-hot favourites to win their ninth title but the Hurricanes won't be overawed in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Canes have won eight of their past 12 meetings with the Crusaders and were the last team to beat them in Christchurch in July 2016, the year they won their maiden Super Rugby title.
Coach Chris Boyd said “the real Hurricanes” turned up for the win against the Chiefs and he will be looking for the same urgency.
“We qualified for the quarter-finals about four or five weeks ago and since then we've been stuttering along with good intent,” he said.
“We've been a little passive really but (against the Chiefs) the boys finally got excited and put a bit of a performance on.”
Hanigan calls for fast start
Lock Ned Hanigan says NSW Waratahs cannot afford another slow start in their semi-final against Golden Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Sydneysiders scored 24 unanswered points to overturn a 17-point deficit in their quarter-final clash against Otago Highlanders but Hanigan said such barnstorming comebacks were rare.
He cited the Waratahs' last match of the regular season against ACT Brumbies, when they trailed by 16 points at half-time and lost 40-31 after failing to claw their way back.
“Not very often do you get an opportunity like we did to create a few tries and go over that white line,” Hanigan said. “It happened the previous week as well against the Brumbies, (but) we just let them get out too far out in front. I think it's definitely the focus that we start really well in Johannesburg.”
The Lions humbled the Waratahs 29-0 in their only previous meeting this year.
“They're a pretty different outfit and so are we,” said Hanigan. “Teams develop new things, some players are a bit different on the field, things like that. We can't look too much at the previous game.”
Tahs don't impress Wilson
Former All Black and Highlanders wing Jeff Wilson was not impressed with what he saw from the Waratahs, saying the New Zealanders' “panicked a little bit” and leaked three tries after Waisake Naholo received a yellow card.
“The worst thing is the Waratahs are in the semi-finals on the back of seven minutes of rugby,” he told Radio Sport.
“They were pretty average for the rest of it but in seven minutes they scored three converted tries and that was good enough to take it. The Highlanders had the opportunities and they'll be bitterly, bitterly disappointed like a lot of us Highlanders fans are. But the reality is they have to suck it up.”
However, Wilson, now a rugby pundit on New Zealand television, had to admit the Waratahs performed when they had to with their backs against the wall.
“They've been a bit like this all year. When they're on, they're outstanding but it hasn't happened very often,” he said.
Golden Lions fly-half Elton Jantjies says the ability of the team to learn from errors is a key reason why they are on the verge of a third consecutive Super Rugby final.
“We analyse our previous match thoroughly, discover what we did imperfectly and develop ways of avoiding the same mistakes,” he said after a 40-23 quarter-finals win over Argentina's Jaguares.
Jantjies converted the Lions' four tries and kicked three penalties for a perfect shots-at-goal record and also claimed his first drop goal of the season for a 20-point haul.
It shows the second-choice South Africa playmaker can also improve after beings recently called a “carpark” fly-half by a pundit who believes Jantjies lines up too far from the gainline.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)