Taking on the unknown factor that the Blues represent for missing their first game would not be a disadvantage for the Hurricanes in their DHL Super Rugby Pacific game on Saturday at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Lock James Blackwell, who will be playing his 50th game for the Hurricanes, said he doesn’t expect too much difference from the Blues’ physically demanding game of previous years.
“They will bring it to us ahead of time and that’s where we expect a challenge. We’ve been working on that throughout the week and although they’re challenging, we have some strengths that count as well,” he said.
Less playing time could be a downside, but Blackwell said if the boot had been on the other foot, the Hurricanes would have put their extra week to good use, particularly making sure their lineup was buzzing well.
Blackwell said growing up in the Hurricane region, playing a game for the team, was a dream.
It wasn’t until last year that he realized he’d played more games and 50 games and more became a goal that he luckily achieved.
Given the nature of the 2020-21 seasons disrupted by Covid, he said he’s coped with the pressure by not thinking about it too much.
It was about enjoying the opportunity to play rugby when it happened and when it didn’t, making the best of what he could otherwise do.
With the Blues’ opening game postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak at camp Moana Pasifika, there were two ways to view this weekend’s game.
He said the Hurricanes would be confident of coming out of a tough game against the Crusaders, while the Blues felt they had an advantage from an extra week to prepare and come in fresh.
Blackwell, who is firmly established in the side as his half-century of games suggest, confirmed the drive of his locking partner Justin Sangster, who will play his second Super Rugby game a week after making his debut.
After his meteoric rise with Bay of Plenty, he was an exception with the Hurricanes. He learned quickly and took his chances, he said.
Coach Jason Holland said: “Both locks have been through a hell of a lot of work and have been solid. They both took a few days to come properly. They’ve spent some time in the lake to get their recovery straight through the first few days of the week. They both deserve their place and we need another good shift from them.”
The thought of playing All Black Julian Savea in midfield has been on her mind since the middle of last month. They think he’s good in the role with the skills and knowledge required on both sides of the ball.
“It was always an option and we think now is probably a good time to do it,” he said.
Savea’s replacement on the wing, Salesi Rayasi, was desperate for an opportunity and had developed well in the pre-season.
“We want him to get his hands on the ball and make him do what he’s doing,” he said.
Holland have not slacked on their belief that 30 points are necessary to win a super rugby game and while they got there against the Crusaders last week they had leaked too many tries.
“We’ve put in a bit of time. In terms of attack, we’ve been happy, but a bit unlucky when converting opportunities. That’s been a focus, but we have to build on the simple things we’ve done well and make sure we ship Not so easy to score,” he said.
Former Blues flanker Blake Gibson will make his debut following Du’Plessis Kirifi’s injury and Holland said he was excited to play against his old franchise.
“He’s been great for our group, he’s a little bit different than any of our loosies. He’s a strong man and will be a threat,” he said.