Wednesday, 23 January 2008 The 2008 Hurricanes Rebel Sport Super 14 pre-season campaign kicks off this Friday night against the Crusaders in Motueka, the first of three pre-season matches ahead of the much-anticipated season opener against the Waratahs in Sydney on February 16.
The Hurricanes travel to the top of the South Island to meet the Crusaders for the first time in a Super rugby pre-season fixture, the first by either side played under the adopted Experimental Law Variations (ELVs).
Several of the ELVs have been brought in for this year's Super 14, most notably the requirement of backline defenders to stand five metres behind their own No. 8's feet at scrums and a tidying-up of the tackled ball law in general play. The changes suggest an attractive Super 14 this year, with more space afforded to attacking teams and more counter-attacking and open running rugby.
The Hurricanes are super-fit and raring to go for the first outing of the new season, coach Colin Cooper especially excited by the make-up of this year's squad, particularly the balance between the core group of experienced players and the younger members of the side. This is also the first time that the entire Hurricanes squad has been selected from within the region, with no draft players needed in any position.
The youngsters include Zac Guildford who at 18 will become the youngest player ever to pull on the yellow jersey when he lines up against the Crusaders, one of four players making their run-on Hurricanes debuts and two others coming off the bench.
Guildford starts on the left wing, and joins his new Hawke's Bay Hurricanes teammates Hika Elliott (hooker) and Michael Johnson (blindside flanker) in the starting fifteen, while Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush also starts in his first match wearing the Hurricanes jersey.
Friday's opening pre-season encounter will be played between squads of 28, involving all but three of the regular Hurricanes squad members, plus three Wider Training Group members in Api Naikatini, Anthony Perenise and George Naoupu.
The three players not playing in Motueka are locks Jason Eaton (still recovering from knee surgery) and Craig Clarke (thumb), both likely to be available next week to play the Chiefs in Taupo, and Neemia Tialata (recent knee and elbow operations), primed for a return against the Brumbies in Levin in a fortnight.
Making their Hurricanes debuts off the bench are Taranaki utility back Willie Ripia and Wellington loosehead prop Jacob Ellison.
Second five-eighth Tamati Ellison will captain the side, in place of regular skipper Rodney So'oialo, who starts off the reserves bench alongside 2007 All Blacks Piri Weepu, Andrew Hore, Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu.
This opening encounter against the Crusaders will be played over 100 minutes – divided into four 25-minute quarters – affording generous game time opportunities for all 28 players involved.
There promises to be huge local interest for this game with a bumper 10,000-strong crowd expected at Motueka's Sports Park.
The full Hurricanes line-up for Friday night is as follows:
16. Andrew Hore 17. Anthony Perenise 18. Jacob Ellison 19. Api Naikatini 20. Piri Weepu 21. Willie Ripia 22. Ma'a Nonu 23. Rodney So'oialo 24. Chris Masoe 25. Jerry Collins 26. Cory Jane 27. Conrad Smith 28. George Naoupu