Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Hammett cagey on skipper fill-in

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett. Photo / Getty Images
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett. Photo / Getty Images

Since the start of 2012, only two men have pulled on the No 13 jersey for the Hurricanes.

Skipper Conrad Smith has been Mr Reliable for the franchise recently starting in 42 of the past 44 games, although Reynold Lee-Lo did fill in twice when he was injured last year.

But a busted thumb will see Smith miss the next few weeks and possibly the rest of the campaign given the Hurricanes have only two must-win contests left in the regular season.

They're in a precarious position, sitting sixth on the ladder but a bye in the final round won't help their cause and their final two outings are against the Crusaders in Wellington on Saturday and the Chiefs in Hamilton next week.

Former Crusader Tim Bateman is one of three candidates to step in to Smith's void, alongside explosive utility Alapati Leiua and the seldom-seen Hadleigh Parkes.

If Bateman was to be given the nod, he would have some pace and power outside him with All Blacks wings Julian Savea and Cory Jane likely to play on the flanks this weekend.

Savea is in particularly hot form, coming off a hat-trick against England during the All Blacks' 36-13 win in Hamilton on Saturday.

"He's really professional in what he does," Bateman said of Savea. "He nails detail really well and at the same time he's just an absolute weapon. He's just destroying guys all the time."

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said his international players - bar Smith - had come through the June window unscathed.

The others were expected back with the Hurricanes today or tomorrow as they turn their attention to the Crusaders, although Hammett was cagey around naming his replacement captain. "I just don't want to announce it yet, to be quite honest."

There's all types of congestion on the Super Rugby points table but Hammett remained confident his team had their playoff fate in their own hands.

"If we win the next two it's pretty likely that we'd go through," he said. "This competition's been an interesting one, hasn't it?"

Meanwhile, Hurricanes second-string hooker Motu Matu'u will play on for Wellington in this year's ITM Cup after signing a one-year contract.

With Coles likely to be away with the All Blacks, the competition will provide a good platform for the tough-tackling Matu'u, 27, to get on the field regularly.

He said last year's 29-13 loss to Canterbury in the final still stung and he wanted to give coach Chris Boyd the perfect departure before he takes over at the Hurricanes.

- NZ Herald

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