Eye on the Hurricanes

Our team of rugby writers countdown to the New Zealand franchises' entry into Super rugby, beginning on Friday night with a mouth-watering clash between the defending champion Chiefs and the competition's most successful side, the Crusaders.

Monday: Highlanders
Tuesday: Crusaders

Now's the time for Hurricanes to make grade

It's about time the Hurricanes delivered.

Coach Mark Hammett has spoken at length for the past two seasons about the inexperience and youth in his squad but that won't wash in 2014.

Hurricanes could shake 'potential' tag for real success

With the rare and exciting talent the Hurricanes have in their squad, even the most traumatised fan should carry a sense of optimism they can return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. However, there are lingering questions as to their credentials as injuries have mounted at an alarming rate in pre-season and the squad's depth will be tested.

Julian Savea is world-class while fellow winger Cory Jane is injury-free, unlike last season. Captain Conrad Smith is the best there is at centre but who will partner him in midfield?

Hammett hopes for solid defence

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.

Finished last year: (11th, 4th in NZ Conference)
Won: 6
Lost: 10
Coach: Mark Hammett
Captain: Conrad Smith
Home ground: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Capacity: 34,500

Players in: Marty Banks (Tasman), Mark Abbott (Hawke's Bay), Hadleigh Parkes (Southern Kings, South Africa), Cardiff Vaega (Southland), John Schwalger (Agen, France) Ash Dixon (Hurricanes Wider Training Group)

Players out: Jason Eaton (NTT Shining Arcs, Japan), Tusi Pisi (Suntory Sungoliath, Japan), Karl Lowe (Canon Eagles, Japan), Samisoni Fisilau (released), Ben May (Fukuoka Sanix Blues, Japan), Reynold Lee-Lo (Crusaders)

Ones to watch:

New man: Marty Banks was the story of the 2013 ITM Cup as he led Tasman to a title in the Championship division. His strong kicking game should see him involved at fullback for the Hurricanes while he also seems the most likely candidate to backup Beauden Barrett at pivot. Banks has been around the block and played in the Heartland Championship and Russia before finding his game last year with the Makos. Super Rugby is a big jump but Banks has cult hero written all over him if he can take the next step and there's just something about him that
makes you think he will.

Star man: When you have an international-quality first-five in your squad you have to do everything possible to re-sign him. The Hurricanes were able to retain Beauden Barrett last season when the Blues were sniffing around for the 22-year-old's services. His development has been impressive in the past two years and while there are still question marks around his defence it is an improving aspect of his game. Barrett has a high rugby IQ, reads the game well and has an accurate boot. His partnership with halfback TJ Perenara will be crucial to the Hurricanes' fortunes this season.

Stats from 2013

2.6 - Average tries per game
11.6 - Lineouts won per game
1.2 - Average lineout steals per game
17.9 - Average missed tackles per game
24.1 - Average number of points per game
16.1 - Average turnovers conceded
20.8 - Average number of defenders beaten
168.9 - Average passes per game

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