Rugby: Huge test ahead for young Hurricanes hooker

By Campbell Burnes

Charlie Faumuina of the Blues fends against Ricky Riccitelli of the Hurricanes. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / www.photosport.co.nz
Charlie Faumuina of the Blues fends against Ricky Riccitelli of the Hurricanes. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / www.photosport.co.nz

The semifinal spotlight will fall squarely on the two young Hurricanes hookers charged with stepping into Dane Coles' shoes to face the Chiefs.

The prognosis on the skipper after his rib damage was still unclear this morning, but there must be enough doubt to say that 21-year-old Ricky Riccitelli of Hawke's Bay will make his first start and eighth appearance for the Hurricanes in 2016.

As Manu Samoa hooker an Gloucester-bound Motu Matu'u is also still on the injured list, that means New Zealand Under 20s captain Leni Apisai, who started the first three competition games, will come off the bench.

It all adds up to some challenge against two All Blacks hookers in Nathan Harris and Hika Elliot for the Chiefs.

Riccitelli played 38 minutes of the quarter-final blanking of the Sharks on Saturday night, subbing Coles, who was in severe pain. He effected a turnover, and will look to bolster his season lineout throwing stats (six missed targets), especially with Brodie Retallick seeking to disrupt.

Last year Riccitelli was used primarily at loosehead prop as the New Zealand Under 20s charged to the Junior World Championship title, before appearing eight times for Hawke's Bay in the ITM Cup. He is in the Aled de Malmanche mould as a strong scrummaging rake.

Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree is confident that Riccitelli will do the job if Coles, who will be given all week to make a call if there is a chance to play, cannot take his usual place.

"Ricky's been a bit of a surprise package for us this year. With Leni there, we have some depth. Both have played at this level. It's crucial, at this time of year, for those on the fringes of the roster, to be able to step up."

Plumtree knows how crucial a blow it would be if Coles is ruled out
"It's pretty big. He's got a crucial role to play in the pack and he's dynamic around the field. But this happens, and one man doesn't make a team. The pack will miss Colesy if he's out, but we are a team," he says.

Riccitelli is enjoying the challenge.

"The boys during the week told me to take every opportunity I get and to fill those shoes of Dane Coles, if he is out," he says.

He roomed with Coles in Sydney and says he is learning fast off the world's best hooker.
"The modern day hooker's role is be that fourth loosie. I do back myself in space. Set-piece will be the first task against the Chiefs."

Loosehead prop Reggie Goodes was on track to regain his place after missing the Sharks with concussion. He just needed to get through training this afternoon to book his No 1 jersey for Saturday, though the bustling Loni Uhila did his job well against the Sharks, scoring a try and holding his side of the scrum up.

The Hurricanes can bask, but not for too long, in the fact they uncorked one of the best wet weather displays seen in years, and did so without their frontline props and with the luxury of benching an All Black with 39 test tries.

They did not miss a beat, got it right tactically and defensively, and the halves TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett were right at the top of their games.

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