Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Defections prove cruel blow for Hurricanes

Gio Aplon of the Stormers in action during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images
Gio Aplon of the Stormers in action during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images

Off shore but not off the radar. As Super Rugby whirred back into action for the New Zealand teams last week, the Hurricanes were asked to start their campaign in Durban.

It was a tough gig, up against a side who had the fresh coaching clout of Jake White with the momentum of an initial victory against the Bulls.

Before they left, the Canes suffered injury defections in the loose forwards where Victor Vito and Brad Shields were early season casualties.

A great deal was expected of that duo this season but leg injuries mean their impact is on hold.

That suggested a place had to be found for All Black openside apprentice Ardie Savea. He had been away for specialist tuition on the end-of-year tour and put on a few kilos in the off-season without losing his pace.

That rating did not sway coach Mark Hammett who felt Jack Lam was a better fit as part of a trio to combat the bulky Sharks side on a soft surface in Durban. He thought the match would be played at a slow clip and chose another bulky loosie, Adam Hill, in the reserves.

Lam was outstanding winning a number of turnovers but the Hurricanes could not maintain any tempo in a dour encounter. They were shunted up front by Bismarck du Plessis and his cronies and shut out of the game.

In a bid to counter the set-piece woes, John Schwalger and Mark Reddish have been picked in the tight five for today's second game against the Stormers and in the other alteration, Savea is on the bench.

The Stormers had a first round bye and were belittled 34-10 by the Lions when they began their work last weekend. Captain Jean de Villiers had not seen a worse performance from his side in seven years and lamented the team's lack of spirit.

They are back on their home patch in Cape Town where they have been beaten just twice in 17 games in the past two seasons. Half of their team have played for the Boks and now are under more pressure than the Hurricanes.

In any match the Hurricanes offer a chance of victory through counter-attack from scraps of possession. It is not a reliable rugby method and if they can absorb the inquiries from the Stormers' pack, they will be on a much better path to a result.

That will also offer space for a sub like Savea to find space near the fringes or in support out wide as defenders' tire.

He can link with a backline where the skills of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Julian Savea can flummox the best of defences although their potency climbs when they get settled possession.

The softer surface in Cape Town can tire teams and Hammett's use of his bench will be an intriguing sub-plot.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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