Rugby: Hurricanes are a much improved outfit

By Daniel Richardson

Victor Vito will return to the field this week after a knee injury-enforced lay-off. Photo / Getty Images.
Victor Vito will return to the field this week after a knee injury-enforced lay-off. Photo / Getty Images.

With his side facing a must-win game against the table-topping Chiefs in Wellington on Friday night, Hurricanes' loose forward Victor Vito has few fond memories of his last outing against the Super Rugby front-runners.

In week 10 of the competition the Hurricanes came off the bye to be soundly beaten 33-14 in Hamilton. The Hurricanes are once again coming off the bye but Vito, who will return to the field this week after a knee injury-enforced lay-off, said they were an improved unit from that night in late April.

"I just remember it being pretty close until the last 15-20 minutes and then they just ran away with it," Vito recalled.

"If anything, we're quite a different team now and we've learned quite a lot and, with them coming off a loss last week, it's going to be them that's fizzing coming into this game. But we've got to match that, if not better it, just to keep ourselves alive."

The return of Vito and Cory Jane from injury boost a Hurricanes franchise who are chasing a spot in the playoffs under second-year coach Mark Hammett.

The eighth-placed Hurricanes need a bonus-point win and a couple of other results to fall their way this weekend to make the finals, while the Chiefs are chasing a victory that ensures top spot and locks in home advantage for the duration of their existence in the post-season.

Contracts are also on the line, with a sprinkling of Hurricanes yet to be signed for next season and they will be keen to impress.

Throw in the fact that three Hurricanes - Ben May, Faifili Levave and Tim Bateman - will all be making their 50th Super Rugby appearances, and there are plenty of reasons for the game to have a high-intensity feel.

"It's a massive game. They've got a lot to play for still," Vito said. "I'm sure they want to bring the finals home to them but, for us, it's just really staying alive and keeping this continuity in the season going, because the boys have really been enjoying it."

Vito believed even if the Hurricanes were to miss the playoffs they could consider their campaign a success, given the host of rookies and unproven players they began the season with.

"I definitely think that's the reality of it now. We've out-performed according to a lot of people and even some of our early expectations. But I think because we just put our heads down and worked at it, results started coming our way and [the chance of the] playoffs is just something that's come about with that attitude. But it would've been nice to be a little bit higher up the ladder."

Halfback Chris Eaton came through training today (Wed) with no tightness in his hamstring and looks likely to start, providing he can complete the captain's run tomorrow.

If the Hawke's Bay No 9 is ruled out, rookie Frae Wilson, who has only 40 minutes of Super Rugby experience, would start with former Chiefs and Crusaders halfback Jamie Nutbrown elevated to the bench.

Nutbrown joined the Hurricanes as emergency cover after being part of the Chiefs' wider training group this year.

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Chris Eaton/Frae Wilson, Victor Vito, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, James Broadhurst, Brad Shields, Wilson/Jamie Nutbrown, Tusi Pisi, Jayden Hayward

- APNZ

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