Colin Cooper is no mug. He's building a team alright, and I have a feeling it won't be long before we see the Hurricanes in the mix for the semis and gain the respect of the rest of the competition.
Let me say it now. That game against the Stormers was probably the best win since our 4-game run in 2001. Everything clicked - fowards were agressive, backs were exciting, midfield was penetrative on attack and stoic on defence, discipline was good (apart from what should have been a yellow card for a late shoulder-charge by Nonu) and the result comfortable in the end.
The most encouraging thing about the Hurricanes so far this year is that they are playing like the Hurricanes must if they are to win the Super 12. Not just scrape together a solid midtable finish, but win the whole damn thing.
Under Graham Mourie the Canes continually tried to play a game that was never going to work. They tried to play in the style of the Crusaders and England - domination up front, a conservative approach in the backs, kicking for territory and feeding on opposition mistakes. It would be easy to look at a sucessful outfit like the Crusaders and say "We'll do it their way - just look at how well it works for them".
More difficult is to realise that we don't have the right players to play like that and we'll be far more sucessful to attack from everywhere, get our loosies in to crash it up a bit and then fling it wide again with awesome backline moves. It might look silly when it doesn't come off, but the alternative of trying to beat teams like the Crusaders and the Brumbies at their own game is just so mind-blowingly dumb that it's criminal.
Here's the team that played on Friday - and what I believe, with one or two exceptions is the team to stick with.
1 Tony Penn
2 Joe Ward
3 Tim Fairbrother
4 Luke Andrews
5 Paul Tito
6 Jerry Collins
7 Kupu Vanisi
8 Rodney So’oialo
9 Brendan Haami
10 David Holwell
11 Jonah Lomu
12 Tana Umaga (Captain)
13 Ma’a Nonu
14 Lome Fa’atau
15 Christian Cullen
I'd still rather see Flutey at #10 instead of Holwell to keep with the new running-rugby style that must be employed, but apart from that, what you see above is our strongest team. Haami at #9 I like. His service is quicker and more accurate than Spice.
If I might, I'll stake my reputation as a clueless Wellington rugby supporter on Tim Fairbrother and Ma'a Nonu becoming regular features in the All Blacks in the future. Luke Andrews is another to watch out for.
When Fairbrother came on off the bench against both the Crusaders and Bulls the effect on the scrums was noticeable. Obviously the coaches noticed as well and put him in to the starting XV and suddenly, boom. No more scrum problems. I don't expect this tight 5 to dominate anyone, but I do rate it the equal of say, the Reds, Chiefs or Waratahs. As long as they can be steady we'll be able to make up for it in the backs with Nonu, the next Tana Umaga and a few others like Cully, Jonah, Fa'atau and the present Tana Umaga.
The Hurricanes are off to South Africa now to play the Sharks and Cats. Following this they'll return home to the Tin to face the Chiefs. Now I know this will sound cliche but the Hurricanes really need to win all three of these games and be in the top 4 by the end of round 6 if they're to make the semis. If we can stay free of injuries and keep playing like we did against the Bulls and Stormers I'm confident the Canes can do it.
New predicted end-of-season ladderBlues