Dane Coles has lost his race against time to find fitness ahead of tonight's Super Rugby semifinal.
The hooker had been bracketed for the clash with the Chiefs after injuring rib cartilage last weekend but now Ricky Riccitelli will start, handing the Hurricanes a big blow before they run out at Westpac Stadium.
Teammate Victor Vito revealed Coles had been ruled out while talking to Newstalk ZB, but the No 8 said his side had full faith in the men who had been serving as understudies this season.
"We've been wanting to give Colesy as long as possible but, with him not coming through, we've got massive faith in Ricky Riccitelli," Vito said. "Obviously Colesy is a massive leader for us and a big part of what our team's about, but the good thing is [Coles] has been bringing through those other lads as well, like Leni Apisai and Ricky Riccitelli. So we've got every confidence they can do the job."
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd had earlier insisted Coles would be given until "7.34[pm] and a half" to prove his fitness tonight but, with the captain confirmed out, the onus will instead fall on Riccitelli. The Super Rugby rookie has appeared in seven matches this season as a substitute, including replacing Coles early in the second half of the Hurricanes' crushing quarter-final victory over the Sharks, while New Zealand Under 20 captain Apisai is set to come onto the bench.
"That's actually been our biggest strength of late," Vito said of the bench. "So we have every faith no matter who comes onto that field - it might not be our captain but it's guys like Ricky Riccitelli who have been part of the framework for a little while now."
The Hurricanes certainly didn't miss a beat in Coles' absence last weekend, after the All Black was helped from the field appearing in tremendous pain. But his accuracy at the set piece and dynamism around the park will surely be missed against a Chiefs side who won the last meeting between these teams by a solitary point.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie earlier revealed his side had suffered their own injury blow, with No 8 Michael Leitch scratched after falling just short in his own fitness battle. Leitch had been on the sidelines with a broken thumb since May but was named on the bench for the semifinal, only to be replaced on matchday by Tevita Koloamatangi.