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

Rugby: Backline reshuffle likely for Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are likely to be without captain Conrad Smith (L) for next Saturday's clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images.
The Hurricanes are likely to be without captain Conrad Smith (L) for next Saturday's clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images.

The Hurricanes are likely to be without captain Conrad Smith for next Saturday's clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Smith was knocked out during today's 48-14 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria as he went in to make a tackle on his opposite number JJ Engelbrecht mid-way through the first half.

The 31-year-old was carted off the paddock on a stretcher following the sickening collision with Engelbrecht's hip but regained consciousness shortly after and was taken to hospital after the game for scans on his neck, which eventually came back clear.

A heavy concussion should keep Smith out of uniform for a couple of weeks - although more will be known on his condition tomorrow - meaning Alapati Leiua could shift in to centre from the wing but it gets tricky from there.

"We'll have to sit down and work that out, whether we move Andre [Taylor] to wing and potentially play [Tusi Pisi] or James Marshall at fullback,'' Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said.

"But they're things we'll talk about tonight and tomorrow and we'll come up with a team then.''

It seems there is no plan to move Beauden Barrett back to fullback, following what was a costly mid-season experiment as the Hurricanes' momentum was stunted with a loss to the Blues and a scratchy win over the Force with Barrett at the back and Pisi at first-five.

Marshall has joined the Hurricanes after young wing Matt Proctor returned home for personal reasons last week.

The Hurricanes simply never got into gear against the Bulls as they conceded penalties with alarming regularity, while their lineout never clicked.

In a bid to combat the Bulls' dominance at lineout time the Hurricanes tried to run the ball out from their own half but that plan backfired as they couldn't get enough go forward.

"We knew exactly what was coming. We knew that they'd want to take us on up front and our plan was very clear around we didn't want to kick the ball out,'' Hammett said.

"We certainly didn't want to give them lineouts in our half and in the first half it was basically the opposite of that. We gave them 11 lineouts, some through discipline, some through skill execution, and that was costly.''

Running the ball from their own half proved costly too as the Hurricanes coughed up two intercept tries in the first spell.

In the 19th minute Ben Franks looped a wide ball that was snuffed out by Engelbrecht, while wing Akona Ndungane latched on to a wayward Pisi pass just before half-time.

Throw in a try from a rolling maul to Deon Stegmann and Morne Steyn's accurate kicking display and the Bulls went into the split with a 27-0 advantage.

In the second half the Hurricanes opened the scoring with a great counter-attacking try that was finished off by TJ Perenara before the Bulls rebounded with a five-pointer through Dean Greyling.

Perenara found the line again in the 55th minute but the middling Hurricanes couldn't get anything going and the loss of Smith meant their backline lacked structure and direction.

When Jason Eaton was sent to the sin bin in the 69th minute the contest was over and the Bulls blew out the scoreline with late tries to Lionel Mapoe and Louis Fouche as the Hurricanes fell to 11th place on the Super Rugby ladder.

The Hurricanes have six games left in the season and will almost have to win the lot to give themselves a chance of making the playoffs. They will have to do it in the short term without their skipper Smith.

Bulls 48 (JJ Engelbrecht, Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane, Dean Greyling, Lionel Mapoe, Louis Fouche tries; Morne Steyn 5 con, 2 pen, Fouche con) Hurricanes 14 (TJ Perenara 2 tries; Beauden Barrett 2 con) HT: 27-0


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