But onward to this weeks' game! The Waratahs in Sydney - an excellent team with just one loss to their name so far this year. Many people (myself included), have been surprised by the meteoric rise of NSW this year. Each week everyone keeps expecting them to crash and burn, and each week they pull a result out of the bag. To halt that trend for this week the Hurricanes must keep going the way they have been for the last month or so but with a few adjustments for a Waratahs team up on confidence and looking at a home semifinal.
Firstly we must realise one thing: what I said at the start of the year still holds true - essentially the Waratahs are, despite all their success, Matt Burke and 14 mediocre others. Matthew Burke is a player that I hold in very high regard and I think the Wallabies are going to regret not making him their captain. He's strong, powerfully built, fast, a great place-kicker and probably the longest punt-kicker in the Super 12 - maybe the world. But one player alone does not make a great team. I don't think any of the other Waratah players are experienced enough to keep cool heads and stay so near the top of the table: are they so high up that they may about to get a bad case of nose-bleed?
Here's my recipe for beating the Waratahs:
1. WIN THE LINEOUTS. That was one of the few blots on an otherwise heartening display against the Ponies. People complain about our 10c foward pack, but the Hurricanes do have two very good locks in Dion Waller and Paul Tito - both are tall, strong and aggressive (sometimes too aggressive!) and up until the game against the Highlanders I was very impressed with Hore the Hooker and the Hurricanes lineouts. They've had an extra week off to fix it so it better be fixed. The Waratahs have had lineout trouble of their own so there might be an opportunity there to win a few against the throw.
2. PLAY FOR TERRITORY. This is extra important against the Waratahs who seem to score most of their tries from close range - often by selling very good dummies and then ghosting through without a hand laid on them. The Waratahs haven't scored a long range try since their South African games so don't let them get near and they probably won't score 5 pointers. Easier said than done of course, but that's what needs to happen. The Brumbies did it quite effectively last week but ended up losing through the one time the Tahs DID get a scrum inside the opposition 22. Kick long and far and follow the kicks up.
3. TACKLE, TACKLE AND TACKLE SOME MORE. One thing that we've noticed with the Australian teams this year is that tackling them hard upsets them. They like to have space so they can pull their clever set pieces and give their kickers room. Don't give them any space and push the offside (sensibly of course). The Waratahs are coming off a bruising test-match-intensity game against the Brumbies. Smash them around even more this week and the gaps might begin to appear. Once you've kicked the ball long and put the Waratahs back in their own half make them earn every last metre that they gain back.
4. TAKE OUT MATT BURKE. Even if it means playing the rest of the game with 14 men. Burke is the foundation of the Waratahs - their only really good place-kicker, their inspirational captain and their ice-man who keeps the discipline. This may sound dirty - and it is, but I honestly believe that taking Burke out of the Waratahs would be worth playing with 14. All of their discipline would collapse, they'd miss every shot at goal and they'd panic. Mind you, you'd have to be a big bloke to take Burke on because as I said before he's big and strong and I'd wager he'd go a good few rounds with any rugby player you care to name... hmm... maybe try and get rid of him "legitimately" then.
5. KICK FOR GOAL WHEN 3 POINTS ARE ON OFFER. Davy Holwell hasn't missed a conversion ALL YEAR. Not because he's only had to do easy ones either - he landed two absolute beauties against the Brumbies from the sideline two weeks ago. Give him the chance and he'll kick the points. If they can unsettle the Waratahs and get a lot of these penalties (or even march a couple of Tahs off for a yellow card or two) then it will be a certain victory for the 3-point machine from Wellington.
So there it is. Win the lineouts, keep them far from the tryline, tackle them into the ground, take out Burkey and kick the 3-pointers. A pretty simple gameplan really - if they can pull it off it will be a certain 4 log points and a week of looking foward to the big game against our friends the Crusaders at the caketin. That will be the game to target the full 5 points instead of the 4 - but for now it's time to focus on finishing the Aussie grand slam. Bring it on!