Rugby: Young Hurricanes foresee tough start

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett. Photo / NZPA
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett. Photo / NZPA

Mark Hammett and his young band of Hurricanes left for South Africa at the weekend, with the coach saying his side was well aware of the tough start to the season awaiting them in the Republic.

First-year players in the squad had to get a buzz cut for the trip, and a few were sporting shorn melons at Wellington airport when the team assembled for the three-week trip.

After all the talk, negative speculation and analysis surrounding Hammett's new-look team, you got the impression he was just as keen as his players to get on the plane and get stuck into the first game.

They get their chance at 4.05am Sunday morning (NZT) when they play the Stormers in Cape Town.

"We are under no illusions that South Africa's going to be hard," Hammett said.

"But it doesn't matter if you are the most experienced side or the least experienced side, Africa is hard, so that's a positive challenge for us."

After the Stormers, the Hurricanes meet the Lions the following weekend in Johannesburg and play the Force in Perth on the way home.

The squad left in good spirits following their 23-19 win over the Chiefs in their final pre-season hit out in Taupo on Friday night.

New skipper Conrad Smith, who could start against the Stormers on Sunday, said it may have only been a warm-up game, but his men were happy to register a victory.

"You take a bit of confidence from a win," he said. "Even if they are pre-season. It'll be good for the boys going into what will be a pretty tough challenge."

A problem area for the Hurricanes is the front row, where the side is light on battle-hardened individuals, although they do have potential and will face a stern test from the strong South African forward packs.

Tristan Moran, Dane Coles and Ben May appear the likely starters; Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Michael Bent are the back-up props with Motu Matu'u to back up Coles in the hooking duties.

"They're going very well, continuing to improve," Hammett, a former hooker, said of his young props.

"Scrummaging, like tackling, is a lot about technique, and if you don't get the technique right then you use up a hell of a lot of energy and we are starting to get on top of that. So we'll continue to work hard there."

Halfback Chris Smylie (pectoral) and prop Reg Goodes (shoulder) weren't considered for the 25-strong travelling group because of injury and had scans during the weekend on their respective ailments.

More information would be known on their injuries during the week. Smylie also injured his other pec before Christmas but recovered within a month.

Goodes may join the squad in South Africa, the country of his birth, if his shoulder is cleared of major problems.

One player who has had an immediate impact on the squad is former Crusader Tim Bateman. Hammett said the midfielder was a vital asset when he joined the team after a stint in Japan with the Coca-Cola West Red Sparks.

"He's a leader, there's no doubt about that. He just oozes leadership, and for the first week, for other players to be talking about that says a lot about the guy."


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