Beating the Highlanders in last year’s Super Rugby final proved beyond the Hurricanes.
Pinning down what it takes to reverse that result in Wellington on Friday night is proving just as difficult.
Captain Dane Coles says halting the southerners is easier said than done, noting a return in the last month of the high-octane style which gathered pace as the 2015 season rolled on.
The title-contending Brumbies, Chiefs and Crusaders have all been flattened by a Highlanders style which Coles says is built on an unheralded, workmanlike forward pack.
“They’re probably the form side of the competition, with the teams they’ve beaten in the last month,” Coles said.
“They’re just taking their opportunities when they’re in that killer zone. Some of the tries they’re scoring off set piece have been pretty special.”
All Blacks hooker Coles concedes the visitors are just as potent from counter-attacks.
He says All Blacks fullback Ben Smith and wingers Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne can’t be given space from ill-advised kicks.
“You’ve just got to be smart. Even if you kick out, they’re looking to play pretty quick, so we’ve probably got to kick it out of the stadium.”
Coach Chris Boyd says another facet of the Highlanders’ style is an ability to survive off crumbs of possession.
He believes the team that capitalises best on turnovers will prevail in a clash of the teams ranked fourth and fifth overall.
The Hurricanes are at full strength, boosted by Coles and lock Michael Fatialofa passing concussion protocol testing which stretched nearly two weeks since their last-start win over the Reds.
Cautious medical staff cleared the pair on Wednesday, much to Cole’s relief.
Teammate James Broadhurst hasn’t played this season because of ongoing concussion symptoms suffered when the one-Test All Blacks lock played for Taranaki nine months ago.
“Broady still hasn’t come right so it’s a bit scary,” Coles said.
“It’s a matter of not rushing things and doing the protocols. It’s a bit different to back in the day – we probably would have ignored it.”
Fifteen of the last 16 Hurricanes-Highlanders matches have been decided by seven points or fewer.
The Highlanders hold Wellington bragging rights, having won five of their last six there.