Daniel Richardson

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

Rugby: Hammett hopes for solid defence

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett is concerned with how his men will react when placed under pressure on defence. Photo / Getty
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett is concerned with how his men will react when placed under pressure on defence. Photo / Getty

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett isn't worried about his team when they have the ball.

His bigger concern as he and his 27-strong squad flew out to South Africa today to begin their Super Rugby campaign was how his men would react when they're placed under pressure on defence.

There's never been concerns about the Wellington-based franchise's ability to attack - it has been their trademark since the late 1990s - but Hammett's side need to tighten up their defence and build consistency in to their game this season.

Their pre-season hit-outs included a 38-35 win over the Blues, a 24-22 loss to the Melbourne Rebels and a 40-15 defeat at the hands of the Crusaders in Levin last night.

But aside from worrying about results, the biggest issue for the Hurricanes has been their injury concerns.

They will be without second-five Tim Bateman, loose forwards Brad Shields and Victor Vito, outside back Matt Proctor and prop Reg Goodes for the start of the season due to a variety of ailments.

Hammett said he was pleased with how his team came through the pre-season - the final scores are purely academic in the grand scheme - but now it was time to get serious with the Sharks waiting for them in Durban next Sunday morning (NZT).

"I was really happy with some of our contact area,'' he said. "I wouldn't say I'm really happy but I'm sort of 8/10 happy in terms of where we are starting to get to on our defence. And in terms of our shape on attack, when we've got the ball we'll beat any international side, so the attack's not really a concern.''

The scratchings of Shields and Vito - who both have knee complaints - has meant the Hurricanes have had to dig deep in to their loose forward stocks and could give the likes of Blade Thomson and Ardie Savea more game-time than expected. Wider training group member Adam Hill could be in line to make his debut in South Africa.

Bateman's withdrawal - also due to a knee injury - has presented a trip to South Africa for Hadleigh Parkes and rookie Cardiff Vaega and either one could be used to partner centre Conrad Smith in the midfield.

Rookie props Chris Eves and Brendon Edmonds while provide cover in the front-row for established bookends Ben Franks, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and John Schwalger.

Hammett's 27-strong squad, which has 16 forwards and 11 backs, largely picked itself, although it's clear outside back Andre Taylor, who wasn't named to travel, has fallen down the pecking order with Marty Banks seemingly the first choice to play at fullback.

After meeting the Sharks in Durban, the Hurricanes play the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, March 1 (NZT) and then return home to host the Brumbies at Westpac Stadium on March 7.

Hurricanes squad for South Africa:

Forwards: Mark Abbott, James Broadhurst, Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Motu Matu'u, Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea, John Schwalger, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Brendon Edmonds, Chris Eves, Adam Hill.

Backs: Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks, Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua, James Marshall, Hadleigh Parkes, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Chris Smylie, Cardiff Vaega.

- APNZ

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