Super Rugby
Meticulous Hurricanes will draw on Collins' legacy
From Brett McKay in Wellington
June 26, 2015
Super Rugby Preview: Semi-finals

In stark contrast to the Brumbies' short and sharp preparation this week, their semi-final opponents in Wellington on Saturday night have been deliberately methodical in their build-up.

With only a few hundred tickets left for the 'Cake Tin' at the time of writing, there is a real buzz around the New Zealand capital as the Hurricanes prepare to run out in front of what will likely be their first sell-out crowd in nearly a decade.

"2006 semi-final against the Waratahs. So it's been nine years," Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd told ESPN on Friday, on the question of the last time the 'house full' sign went up at Westpac Stadium. "And the public's pretty tough. You can be playing really good footy, and if they're still not stimulated by the event, they won't turn out. So clearly, in a town of 300,000-odd people, ten percent of the population - give or take - is going to be here tomorrow night, which marketing people will tell you is a pretty good effort.

"We just want to ensure that the respect we've clearly got from the public, and from our fans, that we don't waste that opportunity, because it's hard to get and easy to lose."

The Hurricanes have earned the respect of Wellington fans with some scintillating rugby © Getty Images

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham wondered whether the week off might affect the Hurricanes' combinations, but Boyd sees the break his side earned as being a blessing.

"There were two things that really benefited us from the week off," he said. "One was that we had half a dozen guys who were sort of creaking, and that extra week has got everybody across the line except for Cory Jane, so the physical thing was one part of it.

"And secondly, we have requirements for the NZRU to do season-ending reviews and debriefs and player assessments and handovers to their provinces, and that sort of stuff, which we managed to get done last week, so we can finish with clear air at the end of the season."

And that clear air has meant that the Hurricanes have had about as full a training week as they've had all season. The extra time has allowed them to have more focus where it might be needed.

"We got together on Thursday and Friday and did some stuff, which was really good. And we had to focus on us, because we still didn't know at that stage whether it was the Brumbies, the Highlanders, or the Chiefs. But we got our bits and pieces done. I think in balance, having the week off was good for us. The coaches spent all of Sunday beavering away together once we knew we were playing the Brumbies. Got the key things sorted out of that, and came in and had a pretty normal training week. It's been really good."

Beauden Barrett is back to spearhead the Canes' attack © Getty Images

Even on Friday, the Hurricanes' Captain's run resembled a full session. Certainly, it was a longer session than what Australian sides usually put out the day before a game. The 'Canes went through all their patterns and set-piece plays, and even finished with a lineout play for four pick-and-go phases toward the post, from where Beauden Barrett potted a drop goal to end the session.

It really felt like they've meticulously planned for every possible scenario.

And then there's the emotion factor driving the Hurricanes, too. Saturday night's semi-final represents the first opportunity the side has had to play in Wellington since the death and funeral of former flanker Jerry Collins.

"We found out about an hour before we played the Highlanders in Napier - which was a home game for us, but obviously not here - that 'JC' had tragically passed in his car accident, and it was a pretty emotional time," Boyd said. "And then we played the Chiefs in New Plymouth, and you know, JC was a lot of things, but he was a pretty good defender, and so we re-themed our defence around JC, and that will continue tomorrow night."

The Hurricanes Jerry Collins puts a hit on at training, Wellington, May, 21, 2008
The late Jerry Collins was a Hurricanes favourite © Getty Images

The other common narrative this week has been around the Hurricanes' relative inexperience in a Super Rugby playoff situation. But Boyd is pretty confident his guys have that covered, too.

"Funnily enough, there's not a lot [of experience] at Super Rugby level, no, but we've got 10 All Blacks here and six of them have played in some reasonably big games. There's four guys who won the ITM Cup Final last season for Taranaki, and another three or four who won the Premiership title here for Manawatu, so those guys were all in finals and semi-finals last domestic season.

"So it's true, the Hurricanes have been unsuccessful in playoff bids, but there's a fair sprinkling of guys who have a fair idea of what it takes, particularly those guys that went through losing a Rugby World Cup in 2007 and then winning it in 2011. There was a real shift in mentality around embracing failure, which has a parallel here, too, to the Hurricanes."

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