Daniel Richardson

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

Rugby: Hurricanes face a tough job ahead

Tusi Pisi (L) and Charlie Ngatai of the Hurricanes tackle Jacques Botes of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Tusi Pisi (L) and Charlie Ngatai of the Hurricanes tackle Jacques Botes of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.

Breaking down the watertight Chiefs' defence will be the biggest hurdle the Hurricanes will have to overcome when they meet the table-topping Waikato-based outfit in Hamilton on Saturday night.

In eight Super Rugby outings this year, the Chiefs have conceded 148 points and only the Stormers (141) have been more miserly in keeping teams off of the score sheet.

The Chiefs, who lead the Stormers by two points on the competition ladder, let in only one try per game on average and two teams - the Force and the Sharks - didn't even manage to find their way over the stripe when they played Dave Rennie's men.

Much of the improvement in the Chiefs' defence has been down to the acquisition of World Cup-winning assistant coach Wayne Smith who oversees the side's defensive structures.

Hurricanes wing Cory Jane, who returns to the team after missing last Saturday's loss to the Crusaders, said opportunities wouldn't pop up regularly against the Chiefs.

"We've got to be patient. We've just got to work hard. We can't expect to go out there and make breaks all over the place and think it's going to be that easy," the 31-test All Black said.

"It's going to be tough. We are going to have to grind away for the whole game and take our opportunities. If we do make a break or we get a penalty here we have to make sure that we capitalise and take it because points are going to be important; put pressure on them and hopefully they make the mistakes."

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett echoed Jane's thoughts.

"Their defence has been outstanding. But we've probably shown against all teams, that against the best defence, we can still open things up and score tries. So that's obviously what we've planned for through our strategy this week."

The Chiefs have returned from a three-week road trip to Australia and South Africa where they pulled off wins against the Force, Cheetahs and Sharks, but Hammett said fatigue wouldn't be a factor for the competition's front-runners.

"We are expecting them to be at their very best. So that's how we've prepared."

Second-year supremo Hammett was afforded the luxury of having his first-choice backs available to him after Jane (ankle), halfback TJ Perenara (ankle) and wing Julian Savea (illness) all made speedy recoveries from their ailments, which forced them to miss the forgettable outing with the Crusaders.

One area of concern for Hammett could be at first-five though if starting No 10 Beauden Barrett was to go down injured.

Back-up pivots Tusi Pisi (calf) and Dan Kirkpatrick (hamstring) are both out for this weekend and Hammett said midfielder Tim Bateman would be the likely replacement if Barrett was forced from the field; although utility Charlie Ngatai, who is on the bench, could fill the void if the situation was to become desperate.

Lock James Broadhurst wasn't considered for selection due to a side strain so Mark Reddish finds a spot on the bench.

Hammett wanted his men to turn up from the opening whistle this week to avoid a repeat of the ambush they faced against the Crusaders and said the Chiefs represented a similar challenge to the Canterbury-based side.

"They're definitely a bit [similar]. Certainly not different in terms of the intensity they've played with. We've seen that all year and they've been physical. They certainly work hard in the forwards initially before they go to their backs."

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Faifili Levave, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben May. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Reg Goodes, Mark Reddish, Jack Lam, Chris Eaton, Charlie Ngatai, Alapati Leiua

Chiefs: Andrew Horrell, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Nanai-Williams, Aaron Cruden, Brendon Leonard, Alex Bradley, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Michael FitzGerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Jackson Willison, Asaeli Tikoirotuma

- APNZ

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