Daniel Richardson

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

Rugby: Hammett wants Canes to prove worth to home crowd

Chris Eaton of the Hurricanes prepares to pass the ball during the round three Super Rugby match between the Western Force and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
Chris Eaton of the Hurricanes prepares to pass the ball during the round three Super Rugby match between the Western Force and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

Few people would have thought the Hurricanes would be sitting pretty with two wins from their opening three games, but now the challenge is to perform at home when they meet the Highlanders at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

The Hurricanes opened their season with a three-leg road trip with stops in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Perth, where the Wellington-based franchise banked nine competition points.

They impressively dealt with the Western Force last week to register a 46-19 win and open their home campaign this weekend.

Laying in wait are the high-flying Highlanders, who have won their opening three games and are one of four unbeaten teams in the competition.

"It's really important that ... we front and it's really clear for people to see,'' coach Mark Hammett said.

"We are playing against another team which is very, very good, a very strong team, so it's going to be a challenge on attack and defence. But our focus is - I've said all along - is we prepare to win games and we've got the clarity now. So it's about bringing that physical attitude and that `never die' sort of attitude that we've seen to this day.''

Hammett has rewarded the 22 who hammered the hapless Force with another opportunity as he named an unchanged line-up to meet the Highlanders who squeezed past the Waratahs 18-17 in Dunedin on Saturday.

While there may have been a temptation to give other players a run, Hammett said squad rotation would come to the fore later in the competition.

"We've used the bench really early in games and with our locks we've rotated them. Not that we've got a plan that we are going to keep rotating, we will see how it works out. But, we've certainly rotated from that perspective, so far. It's early in the season and the boys are very fit and we don't have a lot of niggles at the moment.

"We'd like to think - certainly with this group - we focused on pre-season around getting really physically fit so that we can empty the tank each week and it'll be no different whether we are away or at home. So I expect our fans to see that and see what it means to be back in yellow this weekend. So it should be a cracker game.''

The Highlanders were to name their team tomorrow morning and All Black Colin Slade is likely to return to first-five after playing at fullback last week.

Highlanders' No 10 Lima Sopoaga, who was educated in Wellington and plays for them at provincial level, has a shoulder injury and is out for four weeks, and former international Ben Smith is expected to claim the starting fullback role.

Former Hurricanes Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear should line up against their old franchise for the first time and Hammett said the fact there were numerous players in the Highlanders ranks who once wore the yellow and black of the Hurricanes would be good for the contest.

"I think the biggest thing about that is it's just the reality of professional rugby. These guys play together in the All Blacks, they've played together in the under-20s and those sorts of teams as well. I also think of it as it's like playing against your brother, you always probably go a wee bit harder. So the more people you know in an opposition team generally makes it better and a bigger battle.''

Kick-off is at 7.35pm on Saturday.

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (captain), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben May. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Michael Bent, James Broadhurst, Brad Shields, Chris Eaton, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Charlie Ngatai

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