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Hurricanes vs Crusaders highlight of Super Rugby’s Round 4

March 8, 2018

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Having taken steps this week to secure their future, the Wellington-based Hurricanes turn to more pressing concerns around the present in their Super Rugby match on Saturday against the unbeaten Crusaders.

The Hurricanes on Wednesday announced current assistant coach John Plumtree, former coach of the Durban-based Sharks, will succeed Chris Boyd as head coach for three years when Boyd leaves later this year to join England club Northampton.

Plumtree’s appointment had been anticipated from the moment Boyd announced his departure. But the Hurricanes administration surprisingly hesitated for almost a month before appointing Plumtree and adding the widely-experienced Jason Holland as his principal assistant.

The announcement of Plumtree’s appointment caused a brief midweek distraction from the Hurricanes’ preparation for a compelling New Zealand derby clash with the Christchurch-based Crusaders, the defending champions.

“For a long time now I’ve had the Hurricanes coaching role in my sights,” Plumtree said. “I’ve had to go around the world a couple of times before it’s happened.”

The Crusaders showed they have barely broken stride since winning their eighth Super Rugby title last August, beginning the season with convincing wins over the Hamilton-based Chiefs and Cape Town-based Stormers.

The Hurricanes are 1-1, losing to the Pretoria-based Bulls then unconvincingly beating Argentina’s Jaguares.

But no team has had a tougher start to the season than the Hurricanes, who had to travel to South Africa for their opening match, then to Buenos Aires for their second and now return home to face the Crusaders, who have already set a benchmark for this year’s tournament.

The Hurricanes have good reason to be dissatisfied with their performance against the Bulls and their effort against the Jaguares was only a little better. Their scrum has been shaky in both matches, their defense disorganized at times and their attack hasn’t yet clicked.

Prop Ben May, who will play his 100th Super Rugby match on Saturday, acknowledged the Hurricanes’ attack didn’t flow as the team would have liked against the Jaguares.

“Our forwards probably carried reasonably well but it definitely made a big difference having (flyhalf Beauden Barrett) back running the ship and finding that kick space,” May said.

The Crusaders’ concerns are less about how they are playing than who is playing.

Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who broke into the All Blacks last season, has seen his progress halted briefly after suffering a broken jaw in last weekend’s win over the Stormers. He joins a host of All Blacks — captain Kieran Read, props Joe Moody and Owen Franks and winger Israel Dagg — on the Crusaders’ injury list.

Barrett will also play his 100th Super Rugby match on Saturday and Crusaders assistant coach, former Ireland No. 10, said the All Blacks star is a major threat.

“He’s probably nearly redefined No. 10 play,” O’Gara said. “Dan Carter was obviously and still is the best 10 in the world, overall for decades. But Beauden Barrett is very exciting and could potentially go on to challenge him for that title. So when you speak of him in that class, by God is he up there.”

In other matches in the weekend’s fourth round, the Dunedin-based Highlanders host the Stormers and will hope to stay unbeaten after winning their only match to date, against the Auckland-based Blues. The Melbourne Rebels will also try to keep their unprecedented winning start to the season alive when they play the ACT Brumbies. The Rebels have never before started a season with the back-to-back wins they have achieved this season over the Reds and Sunwolves.

The Reds face the Bulls in Brisbane, the Sharks host the Sunwolves and the Lions face the Blues, who are desperate for a win after losses to the Highlanders and Chiefs. The Jaguares are at home to the New South Wales Waratahs.

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