Kiwi drought won’t happen again for Australian Super sides: Hanigan
It was the most telling statistic of last season. In 40 matches across three Super Rugby seasons, no Australian team could beat a Kiwi side.
The drought ended, eventually, when the Waratahs outscored the Highlanders six-tries-to-one in Sydney in round 14.
Drought-breaker: Bernard Foley offloads during the Waratahs’ round 14 win over the Highlanders last year.Credit:AAP
But it only happened another three times across the final five rounds of the regular season and finals. The Rebels beat the Blues, the Brumbies and the Hurricanes while the Waratahs put the Highlanders to the sword a second time to make the final four. Other than that New Zealand dominated.
This year Australian sides are more settled. The smaller and smaller the Force's demise grows in the rearviewmirror, the better the chances are of that painful episode translating to greater depth and more wins across the four remaining teams.
NSW are the canary down the mine shaft in this weekend's opening round, playing the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval on Saturday. On Friday the Brumbies and Rebels kick of their seasons in an Australian derby in Canberra, while the Reds sit out a first-round bye.
Waratahs back-rower Ned Hanigan said the team had not spent any time thinking about losing streaks or last year's results, but were hoping to make a stronger stand on behalf of the Australian conference.
Ned Hanigan, right, is expected to start in the back row in the Waratahs’ season-opening clash with the Hurricanes on Saturday. Credit:Kate Geraghty
"If you worry too much about what happened in the past you're worrying about the wrong stuff. You go into what you can control and let the results take care of themselves," Hanigan said.
"I hope, as everyone does in Australian rugby, that that doesn't happen again. We're going to do everything to make sure it doesn't."
The Hurricanes are a quality first hit-out for the Waratahs, having made the play-offs for the past four seasons and securing their first title in 2016. Last year the Wellington side finished second in the competition on overall points, behind eventual title winners the Crusaders, but fourth under the conference system. They were bundled out 30-12 by the Crusaders in the first semi-final, not long before the Lions mauled the Waratahs in Johannesburg.
This year they are missing rampaging winger Julian Savea but have acquired former NZ Sevens player Salesi Rayasi. The youngster crossed for nine tries, made 22 clean breaks and beat 43 defenders in 11 games for Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Honeymoon: Beauden Barrett will miss the Hurricanes round one match as one of his mandatory stand down weeks.Credit:AP
Together with established winger Ben Lam, who broke the all-time Super Rugby single season try-scoring record by crossing for 16 tries last year, Rayasi is expected to step up as one of the Canes' leading game-breakers.
Much has been made of Beauden Barrett's absence under the All Blacks' mandatory two-game rest quota, but his younger brother, Jordie, will be there, as well as veteran halfback TJ Perenara. In the forwards, hooker Dane Coles and loose forward Ardie Savea will provide a stern test for the Waratahs' injury-plagued forward pack.
"They're quite quick off set-piece, they get up in your face. They're a fit side as well and have a few skilful guys there in the backs," Hanigan said.
NSW will welcome back Test front-rowers Sekope Kepu and Tolu Latu, second-rower Rob Simmons, captain and No.7 Michael Hooper as well as Hanigan and back-rower Jack Dempsey. But with Test prop Tom Robertson still sidelined and youngster Shambeckler Vui in a moon boot after last week’s trial loss to the Brumbies, the front-row stocks are looking thin. Forwards coach Simon Cron called up Sydney University tighthead prop Chris Talakai over the weekend.
In the second row Tom Staniforth is injured and big South African import Le Roux Roets is concussion return to play protocols and could be in doubt. Jed Holloway and Simmons look set to partner up there, with Ryan McAuley as back-up, while Hanigan could find himself starting at No.6, with Dempsey at No.8.
"It's hard to say and all a bit interesting," Hanigan said of the back-row equation. "Demo is good around the field and a genuine option in that lineout, so we'll see what happens later in the week."
Still shaded by most teams on size, Hanigan said they would continue to carve out a reputation for mobility up front.
"Definitely you want to be big and fast but the style we want to play and the playmakers we have, we want to give them as much front-foot ball and be able to work inside and outside them," he said.
"Mobility and speed around the field is definitely still at the forefront of our minds."
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