This year, the Brumbies may be slightly more alert to the prospect of facing the Hurricanes. I see that all the ACT players and officials are talking the Hurricanes up... mind you, that's hardly unusual. The Brumbies are also at home this year - a venue that they haven't lost at since the 2000 grand final. Can the Hurricanes pull it off again? Only time will tell, but the fact that they'll be missing vice-captain Owen Finegan and laser-accurate lineout man Jeremy Paul can only help the Hurricane's cause. I suppose we've got the Crusaders to thank for that - they nailed Paul during the actual match, and poisoned Finegan with Canterbury lamb afterwards. Nice work boys!
The Hurricanes have enough good players to make a fantastic starting lineup, but the bench strength seems woeful to me. This was perfectly demonstrated in the Hurricanes-Stormers match when Umaga was out injured: the Hurricanes' solution was to pull Daryl Lilley at fullback and move Cullen to centre. Brilliant. I would have thought that we would have learned from a certain match against France in 1999 that Cullen is crap at centre. So we have ONE player in the whole Hurricanes squad that is considered a capable specialist centre? Idiots... anyway, every game that the Cane's have started with what I regard as the best starting XV the Hurricanes have won. That team is:
15. Christian Cullen
14. Daryl Lilley
13. Tana Umaga
12. Pita Alatini
11. Jonah Lomu
10. David Holwell
9. Jason Spice
8. Jerry Collins
7. Rodney So'oililo/Kupu Vanisi (doesn't matter too much either way)
6. Campell Feather
5. Paul Tito
4. Dion Waller
3. Gordon Slater
2. Andrew Hore (Hore the hooker. Poor guy!)
1. Tony Penn
I just hope that they don't put that Shannon Paku on the wing instead of Daryl again. Daryl is the best back in Taranaki and in very good form. He might not be quite so fast as Shannon Paku but he's a fantastic kicker, has good experience and has a brain.
To beat the Brumbies, the Hurricanes will need to do the following:
1. Put the team that I just named on the field as the starting lineup.
2. Get on butt-slapper Gregan and Mr. I-should-still-be-playing-under 55 kg-Larkham's nerves. Annoy them, pressure them, sledge them, break their necks, whatever. When you get rid of those two, the whole Brumbies machine falls to bits.
3. Put a big hit on Mortlock early. This will result in him missing all but the most straightfoward shots at goal for the rest of the afternoon. If they use Walker instead don't worry too much because he has feeble legs which have a maximum kicking range of about 30 metres. If they use Larkham for goalkicking, see point 2.
4. Don't kick the ball away. The Brumbies might put 25 phases on you before you get the ball again, so try and beat them at their own game. Keep the ball and keep bashing up the middle. The Brumbies as a whole are a pretty small bunch of players - give Lomu the ball at pace and see what happens.
5. Don't give up on the new strategy we've seen the Hurricanes take up in the past month or so. Great defence, less risk, more involvement for Lomu, fewer penalties. Don't let that unfortunate loss to the Highlanders discourage you!
6. Play the whole 80 minutes. The Crusaders nearly lost their match with the Brumbies after leading by 13 with 10 minutes to play. The Brumbies can put a lot of points on you in the last few minutes if you slack off and assume the game is already won.
If the Hurricanes can perform another minor miricle and pull this one off I'll be a very happy man indeed. In the Crusaders-Stormers game: go the Crusaders! I'll be supporting the Crusaders in this game because for one I'd like to thank the Crusaders for softening the Brumbies up for us Hurricanes fans, and secondly seeing as the Hurricanes are probably chasing semi-final spot #4 (barring a spectacular collapse by the Crusaders, Waratahs or Brumbies) I'd much rather the Crusaders finish top of the table and we play them (a team who seem to have trouble beating us) in the semis than one of those Aussie teams.