Can the Hurricanes Blow a Storm To Reach the Finals?

James MortimerAnalyst IApril 8, 2009

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 04:  Tendai Mtawarira (L) of the Sharks tries to go around Neemia Tialata as Andrew Hore of the Hurricanes closes in during the Super 14 match between the Sharks and Hurricanes at Absa Stadium on April 04, 2009 in Durban, South Africa.  (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Even some of their most ardent supporters would agree that there have been many inconsistent displays from arguably the competitions blue chip team.

Blue chip?  Well, consider that at full strength, they wield 12 men who have worn the Black jersey, and that they have made more recent Super rugby semifinals than any other side; and not forgetting their record of six of the last seven New Zealand provincial finals.


But with this comes expectation and pressure. Such weight that is intensified considering that in the modern era, the Hurricanes and Wellington has won only one title, way back in 2000.


They are far from finished, sitting in sixth position, but are more than two wins away from the competition pace setters—the 2007 runners up—the Sharks. When considering as well that they have only beaten one team above them, the Crusaders, one doubts if they have exhibited enough to mix it with the other title threats.


But their losses reveal, despite the scoreboards, the steel that exists in this team.


Against the Waratahs, they dominated every statistic; dramatically advantaged with possession, territory, had three times more rucks, and made twice as many running metres.


Against the famed Waratahs defence, the Hurricanes broke the line over 20 times, to which the Waratahs missed nearly 50 tackles.


When losing to the Bulls, it was more of the same. Only the Hurricanes penalty count was against them statistically.


In last rounds loss to the table topping Sharks, it was even clearer reading. The Hurricanes executed twice as many ball carries, made nearly 500 metres more running metres, won 70 more rucks, and made nearly 20 clean breaks. 


As impressive as this sounds; it comes with a simple caveat that has many thinking that the Wellington based franchise will not feature in the title calculations—they haven’t won when they did everything to put themselves on the winning dais.


Furthermore, they have exhibited two painfully obvious Achilles' heels, a poor lineout and have conceded more unforced turnovers than any other team in the competition.  Against the three teams that took their scalp, they were dramatically outdone in these areas.


Equally, they can be shackled. A key component in the Hurricanes attacking and go forward arsenal is Ma’a Nonu. But as the Sharks in particular revealed, the All Black midfielder is a necessary cog in the team and the Hurricanes have not been able to counter his offensive shutdown.


There is no doubt that this team is filled with the personal to win this competition, but they are a howitzer that knows how to fire, but is unable to find the target. They are capable of building the phases and pressure, but not converting it into points.


It is hard to pinpoint the exact weaknesses, but sustained concentration and elimination of elementary lapses will help. This was best epitomised by Zac Guildford and the Hurricanes turning their backs after kicking the ball out of the fall, in which the Sharks threw in quickly and caught the Hurricanes defence unprepared to score a try.


Top level rugby is won and lost with such inaccuracies.


The Hurricanes play the Force in Perth this weekend, before returning home for three straight home matches, against the Stormers, Brumbies and Blues—all teams the yellow and blacks can defeat.


They will then play a penultimate blockbuster against the Chiefs in Hamilton, before finishing their season


Forty-two points is a guaranteed semifinal berth, although in some years, such as 2006, sides with as few as 38 points have made the top four. 


With the Hurricanes currently on 20 points, they would need to win at least four of their last six matches and collect the same number of bonus points to figure for the finals.


Hurricanes – sixth place (20 points)

Fourth best points for, equal third best points against


First in overall possession, fourth most ball carries, two most defenders beaten, second most line breaks, fourth running metres, third most rucks, least missed tackles, least kicks from hand, least tackles made.