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

Rugby: Tough job to replace Smith

Conrad Smith is about as irreplaceable on a rugby field as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images.
Conrad Smith is about as irreplaceable on a rugby field as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images.

Reynold Lee-Lo has an unenviable job this week.

He's the man who has been given the No 13 jersey for the Hurricanes for their outing against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning (NZT).

After Conrad Smith was knocked out last weekend in the Hurricanes' 48-14 mauling at the hands of the Bulls in Pretoria, coach Mark Hammett has had to select a new centre for the first time since 2011.

Cue Lee-Lo who is in a tough spot for the following reasons.

- Conrad Smith is about as irreplaceable on a rugby field as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

- The Hurricanes have looked ordinary in the past few weeks and Lee-Lo has to help this backline improve, somehow.

- The Cheetahs are flying this year, have home advantage and Lee-Lo has only six Super Rugby caps to his name, all of which have been substitute appearances.

So with the negatives out of the way, what can the 27-year-old offer?

Simply put, he should be raring to go. He has had a taste of Super Rugby with his cameos from the pine and hasn't done anything wrong.

Lee-Lo showed plenty of potential during last year's ITM Cup with Counties Manukau and is a powerful runner who can punch his way through gaps.

He isn't a complete novice and did spend 2011 as part of the Chiefs' wider training group and made his provincial debut for Counties in 2009.

Smith has stayed on with the Hurricanes in South Africa despite his head knock and Hammett said earlier in the week that the 31-year-old would be on hand to offer advice to whoever stepped in to his boots against the Cheetahs.

"He's the captain of the Hurricanes and he's very respected. Obviously there's going to be a new player filling his No 13 jersey and what better way to help that person than to have probably the best centre in the world helping that player out,'' Hammett said.

Lee-Lo will also have the experienced head of Tim Bateman inside him at second-five this week, although the former Crusader has looked out of sorts during the past month and was dropped to the bench for the punishment in Pretoria before coming on as Smith's replacement.

Bateman and Lee-Lo's introduction are two of the four changes Hammett has made this week, while prop Ben May and flanker Faifili Levave have also been summoned to start.
Andre Taylor is bracketed at fullback with James Marshall while Jack Lam is bracketed at openside flanker with Karl Lowe.

The Hurricanes should be motivated to meet the Cheetahs after Hammett tore the paint off the wall with a serious dressing down of his team during the week as they looked back on the Bulls game.

"It was a pretty honest and tough review to get through and it would be pretty fair to say that I was the most animated I've been since I've been at the Hurricanes,'' Hammett said.

"But what we have got is an extremely good character in this side and I know that no-one went out there to put in a performance as what we put out. So we are pretty keen to get back on the park and put that right.''

One thing you can probably count on this week is plenty of points considering the game between these sides last year saw the Cheetahs win 47-38 in Wellington while the Hurricanes took the spoils in 2011 with a 50-47 triumph in Bloemfontein.
No 8 Victor Vito will captain the Hurricanes in Smith's absence.

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor/James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Victor Vito (captain), Jack Lam/Karl Lowe, Faifili Levave, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Ash Dixon, Ben Franks. Reserves: Reggie Goodes, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, James Broadhurst, Brad Shields, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi, James Marshall/Karl Lowe


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