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

Hurricanes need to tighten up defence

Israel Folau of the Waratahs looks to step Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Waratahs. Photo / Getty Images.
Israel Folau of the Waratahs looks to step Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Waratahs. Photo / Getty Images.

Scoring points isn't the problem for the Hurricanes, it's how many they're letting in that is the worry.

The Hurricanes have long been entertainers in Super Rugby, from the days of Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu and Tana Umaga a decade ago to the Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu era of the mid-to-late 2000s through to today's breed that includes Julian Savea, Andre Taylor and Beauden Barrett.

There's one problem though.

The Hurricanes, for all their highlight reel moments, have never won a Super Rugby title and have only been to the showpiece game once, when the Crusaders extinguished their hopes of a championship in the foggy final in 2006.

Like it or not, defence tends to win championships and it's a rare occurrence in rugby to find a team who concedes plenty of points that has fashioned a long-term run of success.

Mark Hammett's Hurricanes picked up their fourth win on the bounce last night (Sat) when they dispatched the Waratahs 41-29 on the back of an impressive second-half performance.

The fifth-placed Hurricanes racked up 40-plus points for the second week in a row, seemingly with ease, but the fact they let through 29 would be of a bigger concern to Hammett.

They coughed up 30 points to the woeful Southern Kings in Wellington last weekend on their way to a 46-30 win and it seems unfathomable that opposition attackers can find such big holes in the Hurricanes' defensive line.

On average the Hurricanes give up 26.3 points per game - which is the most of any team in the top six on the Super Rugby ladder.

Barrett and Tim Bateman have been two of the bigger sinners in recent weeks but their defensive structure often sees them caught with two tight forwards next to each other if they have to defend for multiple phases.

Any decent back with pace and vision loves nothing more than looking up and seeing he has to only dance through a lock and a prop rather than an agile midfielder and that's how linebreaks are born.

Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith didn't want to be critical of his side's defensive struggles from the past two weeks and said it may have been more of a mental thing as they had switched off after establishing such big leads recently.

"I think it's definitely an issue,'' he said of how many points his team had let through.

"It's hard to know [what's causing it] ... It's tough sometimes. I almost felt when we got two or three tries in front we sort of relaxed and I'm not sure how much of that's a factor or whether it is our system. But we can't just rest on that and if we are relaxing that's not good enough - we've got to be better than that. So I do take pride in the fact that over the last three or four games when it's been tight our defence has been really good, so that's a good sign. But for sure, we are

letting in too many points and we've just got to keep working on that.''

Last night's bonus-point victory doubled as a Savea family tribute for the Hurricanes as 22-year-old wing Julian bagged a try in each half while 19-year-old openside flanker Ardie made his Super Rugby debut and performed with aplomb.

Front-rowers Motu Matu'u and Reg Goodes were the Hurricanes' other try-scorers, while Barrett's reliable right boot provided 21 points.

No 8 Victor Vito (calf) and loosehead prop Ben Franks (back) missed the game but Hammett was hopeful they would be fit for next Saturday's outing against the Blues at Eden Park.


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