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Ripia Looks Forward To Tackling Hero

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Ripia Looks Forward To Tackling Hero

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Sydney, Feb 25 NZPA - Willie Ripia relishes the opportunity to mark an idol he used to imitate as the unbeaten Hurricanes maintain a safety first option at pivot for Carlos Spencer's return to New Zealand rugby.

Ripia has again been named to start at first five-eighth in round three Super 14 match with Spencer's adopted Lions in Wellington on Saturday - a dream come true for the 24-year-old who used to mimic the former All Blacks playmaker when growing up in Rotorua.

"When we played touch (rugby) I'd always be Carlos," said Ripia.

"He was definitely a guy I looked up to."

Spencer's mercurial skills and Maori background sold the young Ripia, although Wallabies and Brumbies No 10 Stephen Larkham's durability also impressed the former Waikato utility.

Ironically for all his attempts to model himself on the erratic Spencer, it is Ripia's consistency that has coach Colin Cooper content to leave age-group star and potential Spencer-clone Aaron Cruden on the bench.

Ultimately the 21-year-old will be entrusted with a start but for now Ripia is happy to lay the playmaking foundations before Cruden is injected in the final quarter.

"I'm just happy to do my job while Aaron grows - he's going to be a great player."

Ripia was also complimentary about Spencer, despite the 35-test cap All Black's mixed return to Super rugby.

"From what I've seen he's still got what it takes, he's still got all the skills."

While Ripia retains his starting berth, Cooper has made three changes to the side that overwhelmed the Force 47-22 last weekend.

Jason Eaton returns from a disciplinary suspension to partner Bryn Evans in the second row while veteran All Black No 8 Rodney So'oialo makes his first start of the campaign at the expense of Victor Vito.

Hawke's Bay flanker Karl Lowe also lays claim to the contentious openside flanker's role with Scott Waldrom dropping to the bench.

By fielding arguably their optimum line-up, the Hurricanes are clearly taking the Lions seriously despite the Johannesburg franchise's woeful record in New Zealand - and the concession of 72 points against the Chiefs last weekend.

On a positive note, the Lions did rack up nine tries - and 40 points in the second spell as a remarkable comeback fell just short.

"At 30 points down (against the Chiefs) they could have given up but they kept going, they're an exciting team. We weren't sitting here laughing and joking - it's been pretty intense this week. There's no complacency."

Tackling accuracy and intensity has been a hallmark of the Hurricanes so far as they complement their trademark ability to score tries with an impressive defensive record of a high-scoring competition - their 42 points conceded is second only to the Stormers' 19.

Cooper, meanwhile, is expecting the Hurricanes defensive structures to be given a decent examination from the likes of Spencer and fullback Earl Rose.

"They attack from everywhere and Carlos brings a lot of X-factor and different options to them."

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