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Hurricanes pump Western Force as Achilles heel exposed again in early reality check

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23rd February, 2024
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Simon Cron might have been one of the most active head coaches in the off-season market, but until he can find a front-row he can rely on it won’t count for anything.

Up against a physical Hurricanes side who easily won the gain line battle, the Force struggled to gain any strong foothold in their Super Rugby season opener and went down 44-14 at home in Perth.

They weren’t helped by a scrum that repeatedly went down and a lineout that broke down the longer the match went on, the Force won’t need to look further than their set-piece when looking at areas of improvement.

The issue is the set-piece was Cron’s biggest concern last year.

Cron wasn’t helped by losing locks Jeremy Williams (concussion) and Izack Rodda (quad), but the issues up front won’t be fixed overnight given the youth in the prop stocks and Harry Hoopert’s long-term injury earlier this month. Atu Moli, the former All Blacks prop, is one solution.

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

The Western Force’s tight-five struggled against the Hurricanes in their season opener at HBF Park on February 23, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Force’s inability to win the gain line battle and indeed the set-piece denied the home side’s backs the chance to show their skills.

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When they got some parity up front, new halves Nic White and Ben Donaldson showed a bit. As did Harry Potter, whose strong leg drive almost saw him score, before White threw a big dummy and scored himself.

Max Burey, the livewire fullback who finished last year at fly-half, also warmed into the match nicely as he started to get his hands on the ball more and attacked the line

But every time the Force took one step forward, they fell two backward quickly by conceding simple tries against a Hurricanes side that were never quite tested

“The Canes came out with plenty of physicality up front and put us on the back foot from the get-go, and we found it pretty hard to get the momentum back,” Donaldson said.

Hurricanes midfielder Jordie Barrett, who showed that he more than just a cannon boot by delivering a marvellous cross-field kick to set up his side’s opener for Joshua Moorby, was ecstatic with the win.

“Very rapt,” Barrett said.

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“Round one, away from home in Perth where teams struggle here, particularly early on, so we knew it was going to be a challenge and we’re stoked.”

Barrett was one of his side’s best, as he used his big body well and matched his physicality with strong decision making.

But he was far from alone, with halfback Jordi Viljoen having a night to remember on debut, while the Hurricanes’ forward pack was excellent.

Jordi Viljoen celebrates his maiden Super Rugby try for the Hurricanes at HBF Park on February 23, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

Hooker Asafo Aumua led the Hurricanes’ pack, as the long-time heir apparent of Dane Coles stepped out of the shadow to deliver a strong first-up showing.

The All Black’s try in the 53rd minute, as he managed to crash through two defenders, was the decisive blow despite Chase Tiatia hitting back for the Force shortly after.

Flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi meanwhile showed the physicality and doggedness in defence, as he stepped up in the absence of Ardie Savea.

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In total, the Hurricanes scored six tries, including two in the final 10 minutes, to run away with the game.

A big setback?

“No,” Cron told Stan Sport. “Every fight you’re going to take a punch in the face.”

But the Force coach will be fully aware that his side must aim up against the Rebels, whose scrum will be a feature of their game this year, next week in Melbourne.

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