Hawke's Bay Magpies Pouri Rakete-Stones and Devan Flanders experienced tough introductions to Super Rugby at the weekend.
Maori All Blacks Rakete-Stones was a late replacement at loosehead prop for the Hurricanes during their 27-0 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday. Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said by that stage of the match the Stormers scrum was dominant and the Canes were a man down when substitute forward Vaea Fifita was in the sin bin.
Flanders, like Rakete-Stones a two-time New Zealand under-20s World Championship player, replaced his Havelock North clubmate Gareth Evans at No 8 for the final 10 to 15 minutes of the match.
"The Stormers boast so many Springboks. It was a tough ask for the Hurricanes up there in Cape Town. While it wasn't a great first up game from them a lot of their problems can be fixed ... they're just fundamentals.
"I'm sure they will bounce back against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires this weekend," Ozich said.
That's a brave call when one takes into account the Jaguares, last year's beaten finalists, walloped the Lions 38-8 at home on Sunday. He is hoping Flanders may get more game time against the Jaguares.
Ozich was impressed with the impact provided by Magpies and All Blacks halfback Brad Weber during his Chiefs team's 37-29 win against the Blues in Auckland on Friday night. Both Weber and former All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden were influential figures in the second half as the visitors recovered from a 19-5 halftime deficit.
"Brad moved the ball quickly and was a great communicator. Cruden was classy," Ozich said.
Former Magpies loosie Tony Lamborn had a powerful first half for the Blues and scored the first try of the Super season. Ozich pointed out United States World Cup player Lamborn won't be back with the Magpies this season.
"It's a similar scenario to 2018 [when Lamborn ended up playing for the Southland Stags]. There was uncertainty about his availability and our loose forward roster is full with the likes of Gareth, Devan, Brendon [O'Connor], Iakopo [Mapu], Josh [Kaifa], Will [Tremain] and Marino [Mikaele-Tu'u]."
Ozich was also thrilled with O'Connor's contribution to the Sunwolves' shock 36-27 win against the Melbourne Rebels in Fukuoka.
"Brendon started at blindside flanker and did all the tough stuff. He jumped at the front of the lineout which was a good effort as he isn't a noted jumper."
There will be plenty of interest in the clash of the loosies when the Hurricanes host the Sunwolves at Napier's McLean Park on February 29 with O'Connor up against the likes of Evans and Flanders. This trio are among 15 of last year's Magpies who are in Super Rugby squads this season.
Captain and hooker Ash Dixon, halfback Folau Fakatava and Mikaele-Tu'u are all expected to be in the Highlanders 23 when they open their campaign against the Sharks in Dunedin on Friday night after having the bye in round one.