Now for all my Kiwi friends – let me say the unthinkable.
An all Australian Super Rugby final.
Am I dreaming?
And I am not alone. The problem of course is that Kiwis can dream too, and aren’t too shabby when it comes to playing rugby at the pointy end of the season.
There is no doubt that the Hurricanes and the Highlanders are formidable opponents, and no one would complain if either of these two teams, or both, prevail this weekend.
On face value, it is easy to argue that the Hurricanes, who have only lost two matches this season, and are playing at home, should take this semi-final.
The Brumbies have a tough task, facing the Hurricanes in their own back yard in front of almost 35,000 screaming supporters.
After overcoming the Stormers in South Africa last week, the Brumbies are no doubt travel weary, so how their bench performs will be critical.
Forget statistics, as the Hurricanes haven’t played the Brumbies all season, which makes this match anybody’s guess. Interestingly coach Stephen Larkham has not adopted the underdogs tag and it is this measure of confidence that may well see the Brumbies overcome their more-fancied rivals.
Both teams are capable of playing exhilarating football, and I doubt if either team intends to change their style for this match. The Hurricanes have had the luxury of a week off but Larkham will have only trained his squad very lightly after their blistering win against the Stormers in Capetown.
There would be no reason whatsoever to do any more than run out soreness and travel weariness.
This game could come down to the battle between the back rows. How David Pocock plays in this match will be pivotal to the Brumbies’ chances. If the Brumbies can win the breakdown, they can take this game. Possession will be key, and Pocock’s work as a pilferer in this crucial area has been outstanding.
However, it will also be the amount of work that Number 8 Ita Vaea and his other forwards do in support of Pocock that will influence just how effective this is. A pilfering flanker does not work in isolation and the success of Pocock’s efforts as a disrupter at the breakdown work depends largely on the support he gets from his Number 8 after set pieces and the nearest players to the ruck in general play whose job it is to clean out any threats.
On the other side of the coin Pocock will be facing the young Ardie Savea who will be smarting from missing All Black selection. He will be ably supported by All Black squad inclusion Victor Vito. Nevertheless, I think the Brumbies have the edge over the Hurricanes in this crucial area.
While the Hurricanes are capable of running any team off their feet, the Brumbies have the best defence of any team in the competition – and they are going to need it.
The logical bet is on the Hurricanes but I would rather go with my heart and say the Brumbies for this one.
The other semi-final sees the ever-improving Highlanders fronting up to Allianz stadium in Sydney to meet the New South Wales Waratahs.
As with the Brumbies, the odds are against the Highlanders winning this game.
While they played some great footy when they dispatched the Chiefs in last week’s knockout, the Waratahs forward pack should be able to get them the dominance they will need to extinguish the south island boys’ aspirations.
It has been a long time coming for the Highlanders, who have not featured in a semi-final for 13 years, when they lost to the Crusaders in 2002.
Their abrasive playing style is a reflection of their coach and former All Black Jamie Joseph, who has done a stellar job in guiding them to this semi-final.
The Highlanders have a very good backline in Ben and Aaron Smith, and the explosive centre Malakai Fekitoa and record-breaking tryscorer Waisake Naholo.
A few years ago as coach of the Southern Sharks in the Carlton Sevens in Sri Lanka I had the pleasure of having Malakai Fekitoa in my squad, after have been encouraged to include him by former New Zealand sevens player Edwin Cocker. Needless to say Fekitoa wreaked havoc with the opposition before succumbing to an ankle injury. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict that he had a huge future in the game.
I expect the Highlanders will go toe to toe with the Waratahs in the forwards, but a lack of experience when things are tight may see the scales tip in the Waratahs’ favour, with their side brimming with Wallabies and experience.
The weeks rest will not have done the Waratahs any harm, and playing on their home turf will be a big advantage for them.
Expect to see the Waratahs confront the Highlanders in the forwards in a war of attrition. The Waratahs have showed this year that when they stick at it they often get over the top of their opposition forward pack around the 60 minute mark, and I do not expect this game to be much different, although it might take a little longer against the unfashionable but valiant Highlanders.
We all know you need to go forward before you go wide to win most rugby matches. The Waratahs have some very big powerful running forwards who can carve holes in the opposition defence, with Will Skelton, the pick of them, but ably supported by the likes of Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, and to a lesser extent Wycliff Palu.
The Waratahs lose some attacking flair with the loss of Kurtly Beale in the centres, but the ever reliable Matt Carraro, will bring a defensive capacity to the team that will shore up that midfield defensive area. I think the Waratahs will take this one in a hard fought battle.