Kirwan lauds Hurricanes' attack
April 9, 2013
John Kirwan has been drilling the Blues hard at training in preparation for the Hurricanes © Getty Images
Blues coach John Kirwan has his men preparing to batten down the hatches when the Hurricanes storm into Eden Park on Saturday night.
The prospect of an in-form 'Canes backline, led by bruising wing Julian Savea, wreaking havoc has the Auckland Super Rugby franchise taking a few more precautions than usual.
Never before have the Blues been drilled so hard, or so long, at one of Tuesday's defensive sessions.
In fact, it took an extra hour-and-a-half until Kirwan and defence coach Graham Henry were completely satisfied with their work.
The increased effort is justified by a Hurricanes side that has won its previous four encounters, while scoring 87 points in the past two games alone.
"They're probably the best attacking side in the competition at the moment," Kirwan said. "They can attack from anywhere; they've got some real potent weapons with Julian [Savea] out wide and Conrad [Smith], who is running the show. We need to be on our game defensively so that's why we spent a bit more time on that today."
Kirwan is quietly confident of his own strike weapons, one in particular which he has positioned on the opposite side of the field to Savea.
While Kirwan wasn't willing to confirm the move, the writing was on the wall as the France-bound star ran outside centre Francis Saili at training.
When quizzed on Moala's replacement he replied: "You guys are intelligent people, you've been watching training but I'm not going to say too much."
He did, however, confirm that 102-Test All Blacks veteran Keven Mealamu will not be wearing the No. 2 jersey this week.
Mealamu's "plan" dictates that he will play his second game in four months from the bench before returning the starting line-up after next week's bye.
While Angus Ta'avao is the long-term replacement for the injured Charlie Faumuina at tighthead, Kirwan is prepared to persist with Tasman loosehead Tim Perry despite his horror night against the Highlanders.
The Blues scrum was demolished late in the game, with Ma'afu Fia providing dominance opposite Perry.
Hooker turned prop, Tom McCartney, began the year in the No. 1 jersey but is thought of as too inexperienced in that position.
The Blues pack spent a significant amount of time rectifying the problem to ensure there are no embarrassments this week.
"We just spent another half an hour on it [the scrum]," flanker Steven Luatua said. "The only way we're going to get our backs to light a fire is if we get that set-piece right."
The Hurricanes, who sit second in the New Zealand conference, have lost only twice this year; one of those defeats was at the hands of the Blues in round two.
Kirwan has spent countless hours viewing footage of the Savea and company busting defences open since then in order to prepare his men for the ensuing backlash.
To make matters worse, their loose forward trio has been ignited by the All Black wing's younger brother Ardie.
Making his debut against the Waratahs, 19-year-old Savea reignited talk of his potential rise to All Blacks status that began during his outstanding season for Wellington in the ITM Cup.
Luatua is also touted as a genuine contender for a spot in Steve Hansen's squad this year and is pitted in a crucial battle with Victor Vito on the bindside.
He believes the Hurricanes will not alter the game plan that has worked for them in previous weeks and feels confident of being able to counter it.
"They like to use the big boys out wide as well and full credit to them because that's one of their strengths," Luatua said. "Last time they scored a few tries on us out wide so they'll paint the same picture; they'll look to go wide and work us around the park. We tried to cover that off at training today."
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham