The Wellington Hurricanes have raised eyebrows by resting captain Ardie Savea and fullback Jordie Barrett for tomorrow’s match against the leading Waikato Chiefs as national-team priorities overshadow Super Rugby Pacific ahead of the playoffs.
New Zealand’s teams are under strict orders to ease the workloads of their All Blacks players in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, but the Hurricanes’ decision to drop two of their best for the clash in Hamilton has drawn fire from pundits.
“Few could dispute that the game of the round has just become a little less interesting,” rugby reporter Patrick McKendry wrote on 1News.
With three rounds remaining before the playoffs, defeat could dent the third-placed Hurricanes’ hopes of finishing in the top four and earning the right to host a quarter-final.
The Chiefs, five points clear of the second-placed ACT Brumbies, return to near full strength after welcoming back players rested for the 25-22 defeat by the Queensland Reds.
However, the Hurricanes might be saved by All Blacks stand-downs at other teams.
Champions the Canterbury Crusaders, fourth in the table, but level on 37 points with the Hurricanes, are resting flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, center David Havili and outside backs Braydon Ennor and Leicester Fainga’anuku for their game today against winless Moana Pasifika.
The fifth-placed Auckland Blues have four All Blacks resting along with suspended captain Dalton Papalii for the other match today against the Reds.
After a poor start to the season, Brad Thorn’s seventh-placed Reds have won three of their past four games, but take no comfort from the Blues’ absentees.
“You don’t just have a 15, it’s a squad of guys, and they’ve got real strength,” Thorn said of last season’s runners-up. “Preparation’s been important and knowing that you’ve got an absolute battle tomorrow night [today].”
The other games this weekend are the New South Wales Waratahs (sixth) against the Fijian Drua (ninth); the Otago Highlanders (11th) against the Melbourne Rebels (10th); and the ACT Brumbies (second) against the Western Force (eighth).
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