WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Wellington Hurricanes head into their second successive Super Rugby semi-final in Christchurch against the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday knowing the weight of history is against them but coach John Plumtree is confident his side can upset the odds.
The Crusaders, nine-times champions, have not lost a Super Rugby game in Christchurch in three years and are bidding for a third successive final, against either Argentina’s Jaguares or Australia’s ACT Brumbies.
They have never lost a playoff game at home since the competition started in 1996.
The Hurricanes have never beaten the Crusaders in the knockout stages, having lost each of the five previous games by an average of 20 points, according to Opta Sports.
This year, the Crusaders beat the 2016 champions twice in the regular season — 38-22 in Christchurch and 32-8 in Wellington.
While those statistics would not fill Hurricanes fans with hope, Plumtree has a feeling things are going to be different this year.
“There are some things about this team that have been a wee bit different about it possibly than other years,” the Hurricanes coach told reporters in Wellington on Friday.
“That might be stuff based around the fact we’ve been under pressure in games, we’ve been behind and we’ve come back and won. We’ve been ahead and we’ve had to hang on to win.
“That develops a fair bit of character among the group.”
While their opponents topped the Super Rugby standings, the Hurricanes actually won more games (12) than the Crusaders (11), with eight of those wins coming by fewer than 10 points.
The Hurricanes also head south having won nine of their last 10 games, far better than last year when they lurched into the playoffs having lost four of their last five.
The Crusaders, however, have looked the side to beat since the second week of games, with an All Blacks-laden pack and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga in arguably the form of his life.
Sam Whitelock’s side were successful by soaking up pressure and scoring points when they were presented with opportunities.
The pressure of a pack with seven All Blacks in it will need to be matched by the Hurricanes, with the Crusaders at their most ruthless in the 20-minute spells either side of halftime. The Crusaders scored a competition-best 48 of their 78 tries in the second and third quarters of games.
Whitelock told reporters in Christchurch that the Hurricanes had danger men in all areas.
“They’ve got threats right across the board,” he said.
“For us, making sure that when we play… we hopefully nullify their strengths and put them under pressure.
“But they’re classy players.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)