Thursday, 14 February 2008
Neemia Tialata and Chris Masoe should both be playing their 50th Rebel Sport Super 14 games for the Hurricanes in Saturday's season opener against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Masoe starts at openside flanker and Tialata off the bench in an exciting Hurricanes playing 22 that includes four Hurricanes debutantes and the return to Super 14 of lock Jason Eaton and prop Tim Fairbrother from injuries that forced them to miss much of last year's competition. Eaton and Fairbrother both start in a Hurricanes forward pack featuring Vodafone Wellington Lions lock Jeremy Thrush on Super 14 debut, while Hawke's Bay hooker Hikawira Elliot could make his Super 14 debut from the reserves bench. Elliot is joined on the bench by the Taranaki pairing of lock Craig Clarke and first five-eighth Willie Ripia, both making their first Hurricanes Super 14 appearances. Clarke (Crusaders) and Ripia (Highlanders) both played Super 14 rugby in 2006. Tialata is set for his 50th Hurricanes appearance off the bench following pre-season surgery to his knee and elbow – ending a run of 40 consecutive appearances and three straight seasons in the starting side, after three starting roles and six substitute appearances in his rookie season of 2004. Masoe passed 50 appearances in Super Rugby last year, after debuting for the Chiefs in 2001 and representing that franchise before joining the Hurricanes at the start of 2003. Tialata and Masoe will become the fifth and sixth players in the 2008 squad to have passed half centuries of appearances for the Hurricanes, after Jerry Collins (74 Hurricanes caps), Rodney So'oialo (63), Ma'a Nonu (58) and Andrew Hore (54). So'oialo captains the side at No. 8, while Nonu starts on the left wing, with second five-eighth Tamati Ellison and centre Conrad Smith combining in the midfield. The 2008 season opener between the Hurricanes and Waratahs will be the 14th Super Rugby clash between the two sides since 1996, with the Hurricanes in front 8-5 on the head-to-head ledger and the Waratahs ahead four wins to two in Sydney. The Waratahs will be hoping to turn around a disappointing 2007 Super 14 after reaching the final in 2005 and the semi-final stage in 2006. However one of their three wins came against the Hurricanes, travelling to Wellington in the last round and prevailing 38-14. The Waratahs have won all three of their pre-season matches, beating the Reds 26-10 at Campbelltown, running in five unanswered tries in the last 25 minutes of play to defeat the Brumbies 48-19 in Gosford, and coming back from 14-0 behind to defeat the Crusaders 24-14 in Sydney in persistent rain. The Hurricanes can point to the closing stages of the inaugural Super 14 in 2006 for recent success against the Waratahs – beating them in consecutive weeks, 19-14 in the last round in Sydney and 16-14 in a thrilling semi-final at Westpac Stadium. The Hurricanes also pipped the Waratahs 26-24 in 2005 in the wind in Wellington, in a game that featured a brilliant try by Masoe and two tries by the Waratahs' now London Irish-bound winger Peter Hewat. The Waratahs have named a strong side for their first game, including seven Wallabies out of eight forwards and another two on the bench. Key match ups in the tight five will be between John Schwalger, Hore and Fairbrother in the front row against Wallaby counterparts Matt Dunning, Adam Freier and Al Baxter and at lock between Eaton and Dan Vickerman. So'oialo this week nominated the back-to-back wins against the Waratahs in 2006 as two of his most memorable Hurricanes matches, and will relish his match-up against powerful Waratahs back rower Wycliff Palu. Look out for an action-packed game out wide. These two teams average just under 50 cumulative points per game between them over their previous thirteen clashes, and 29 of the 38 tries the Hurricanes have scored against the Waratahs in Super Rugby have been scored through the backs. In Cory Jane and Lachie Turner, both can call upon dazzling speed from fullback, while both are well armoured with power and pace out wide, with Nonu and right wing Hosea Gear marking rugby league recruits Timana Tahu and Lote Tuqiri. 58-test Wallaby Tuqiri is just two tries away from breaking former fullback Matt Burke's all-time NSW try scoring record of 22 tries. Kick off at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night is at 9.40 pm (NZT). The Hurricanes team to play the Waratahs is: