Daniel Richardson

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

Rugby: Hurricanes ready to play after tough week

Faifili Levave of the Hurricanes is tackled during round 10 of the Super Rugby season. Photo / Getty Images
Faifili Levave of the Hurricanes is tackled during round 10 of the Super Rugby season. Photo / Getty Images

A patch of grass in the middle of a stockcar track in Palmerston North will provide an unlikely sense of relief for the Hurricanes tomorrow night.

After a trying week, in which star wing Julian Savea withdrew himself from the playing squad after a court appearance on a common assault charge, Mark Hammett's side will be keen to get out and do what they do best - play rugby.

The players said this week the Savea issue hadn't been a distraction but that's likely to have been a case of toeing the party line.

Norm Hewitt was among those who said the man known as The Bus shouldn't have played against the Force last Friday night, and his withdrawal could be a sop to critics considering he will be available to travel to South Africa for his side's next two games.

The Hurricanes host the Stormers at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North tomorrow night in a game that looms as crucial to the 'home' side's fortunes.

Sitting in seventh after 10 rounds of the Super Rugby competition, Hammett's side have shown flashes of their potential at times this season but struggled in other moments.

Sanity has prevailed this week and Beauden Barrett has been returned to the No 10 jumper after spending the past two weeks at fullback, which was a failed experiment.

Tusi Pisi is a fine replacement and a useful first-five but Barrett is a better fit for the Hurricanes and guided them on a four-match winning run before Hammett and co decided to fix something that wasn't broken.

A loss to the Blues and a scratchy win over the Force followed before the experiment was shelved and Pisi will return to the bench in a forward-heavy reserves group that has a five-two split of big men to backs.

Savea's withdrawal has given an opportunity to youngster Matt Proctor, who impressed for Wellington in last year's ITM Cup.

"When you look at him he doesn't look like a big nasty forward like myself," Hammett said. "But he's an extremely powerful and aggressive footballer. When he's at his best, that's what he does. He tackles hard, he runs hard, and he's got a very high workrate. We're excited for him.

"I just wonder if in a year or so we're not talking about this moment being a very special moment, another diamond rolled out of this region."

Barrett's move closer to the action will see Andre Taylor start at fullback on a ground he knows well after beginning his provincial career for Manawatu as a schoolboy in 2006.

No8 Victor Vito returns to the fold after a spell on the sidelines with a calf problem and halfback TJ Perenara will start after playing from the bench last week.

In the pack, Karl Lowe and Jason Eaton will also start against a Stormers side who boast a strong lineout with some tall timber.

The Cape Town-based side have started the season slowly with three wins from seven outings and sit 10th on the ladder.

* Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Matt Proctor, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Low, Brad Shields, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Motu Matu'u, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ben May, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, Ardie Savea, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi.

Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (c), Bryan Habana, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Pat Cilliers, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: Scarra Ntubeni, Brok Harris, Rynhardt Elstadt, Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Louis Schreuder, Damian de Allende.

- APNZ

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