Rugby: Continuity the key for Hurricanes

If the Hurricanes keep their season alive and knock over the Chiefs on Friday night, coach Mark Hammett will look back to today as the time he made his best decision of the week. Photo / Getty Images.
If the Hurricanes keep their season alive and knock over the Chiefs on Friday night, coach Mark Hammett will look back to today as the time he made his best decision of the week. Photo / Getty Images.

If the Hurricanes keep their season alive and knock over the Chiefs on Friday night, coach Mark Hammett will look back to today as the time he made his best decision of the week.

Hammett has named an unchanged 22 for the match at the Cake Tin and given the shuffles that have taken place - particularly in the backline - during the past six weeks, playing alongside familiar faces could be crucial for his young side.

Beauden Barrett was moved from first-five to fullback and back, No 9 TJ Perenara was given a game on the pine, likewise Tim Bateman, while Andre Taylor fell out of favour for a couple of weeks and Tusi Pisi dipped his toes in and out.

Reynold Lee-Lo was called upon to fill the whopping hole left at centre by the concussed Conrad Smith and although the Counties Manukau utility was quiet in last week's 39-34 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, his retention for Friday will give him confidence.

The equation for the Hurricanes for the rest of the season is pretty simple: Win.

Languishing in ninth overall and fourth in the New Zealand conference, the Hurricanes have to nearly win out during their final five games if they want to give the playoffs a shake for the first time under Hammett's watch.

After clearing the decks in 2011, Hammett let his side build last year and they should have taken the next step this season, particularly as they had the best squad retention of any Kiwi Super Rugby outfit heading in to 2013.

But they've struggled to compete with the elite teams in the competition and have given away far too many penalties this year, while their handling during the first few weeks of the season was poor.

They've still got to meet the Chiefs twice in their final five games, while the Brumbies await in Canberra later this month and there's the small matter of playing the Crusaders in Christchurch on July 12.

It's a horror run in and one more loss would all but leave it down to a mathematical chance of qualifying rather than having their destiny in their own hands.

The Chiefs, who have suffered an injury crisis in the midfield this year, are light on troops heading into this week's game but Hammett laughed off suggestions that now was the time to strike against the defending champions.

"As soon as your head space goes into that you have probably lost the game and what the Chiefs have proved, not just last year but this year, is they've continued to win under adversity and through having injury problems,'' Hammett said.

"So we are certainly not looking at it rubbing our hands together. We know that if we are not completely up to it and just us, as a team, if we are not at our best and we've seen it a couple of times this year, that we get rolled. If we are at our best we'll get close and get somewhere near where we want to be.''

Hammett said he hoped to have All Blacks hooker Dane Coles (fractured eye socket) back after the team's bye next week and the rake could suit up against the Brumbies on May 31.

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Victor Vito (captain), Jack Lam, 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

Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga, Charlie Ngatai, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Nick Crosswell, Augustine Pulu, Dan Waenga, Save Tokula.

- APNZ

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