Canes stay focused on footy
An odd stray cow-pat, a half-naked haka or two and some worried livestock nearby - the setting provides a stark contrast to the annual match that graces the Mangatainoka Rugby Football Club.
It'd be easy for the 5000-strong crowd to forget the rugby altogether at an event that's as much about the sponsor's product as the sport.
But for coach Mark Hammett, there is a more serious side to the buildup to, and playing of, the Hurricanes' final Super Rugby pre-season match, against the Chiefs.
Of immediate concern is "three or four" tight calls to make before Hammett and his assistant, Alama Ieremia, settle on the 15 men to run on to Westpac Stadium against the Blues next Saturday.
But the past week has been about far more than just 80 minutes in a farmer's paddock, after the team's now annual "foundation camp" in the Wairarapa.
"What we cover off is our vision, or statement of intent, our guiding principles," Hammett said yesterday. "We look at what drives that? What are the behaviours that are aligned to that?
"We also cover off protocol. Things like leadership, the leadership team, recovery, issues like alcohol and the recovery process that's involved with that.
"We talk about the big rock things. We have a squad of 37, which means if only 22 get selected each week that leaves 15 over, so it's around how we do that really well.
"We want everyone to feel like they are contributing and that they are being challenged, so a lot goes into these camps. We also look at the roles and responsibilities of the leadership group and the strategy group. It's quite detailed and it's a very important time in our year."
It's not that the Chiefs match isn't important, but Hammett is more interested in fine-tuning than making a statement. "We haven't gone in saying, ‘How do we beat the Chiefs?' We've gone, ‘What haven't we covered off? And what do we want to make sure we get a decent look at in terms of patterns we haven't done yet'?"
He also believes it's an opportunity to play in front of the Hurricanes' rural fans, many of whom may not travel often to Wellington for home games during the season.
Hammett doesn't talk specifics when it comes to selection, but says "three or four" spots are still up for grabs ahead of the opener.
Most of those are likely to be in the pack, where there are some competitive areas including prop, lock, and loose forward. The right wing berth has been thrown open due to Cory Jane's knee injury.
Not considered for today's match were Alapati Leiua (hamstring), Motu Matu'u (pectoral), Samisoni Fisilau (hamstring), Jack Lam (knee), and Eric Sione (shoulder). First five-eighth Tusi Pisi has not yet arrived from Japan.
Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has been hit by injuries in the backs, with Andrew Horrell, Robbie Robinson, Brendon Leonard, Charlie Ngatai and Richard Kahui all ruled out of the match.
That means Gareth Anscombe starts at fullback and Tim Nanai-Williams at centre.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Teams: Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith (c), Reynold Lee-Lo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Karl Lowe, Victor Vito, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ben May, Reggie Goodes, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave, Mike Coman, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Tim Bateman, Ope Paleseuma, Richard Buckman.
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Fritz Lee, Tanerau Latimer, Nick Crosswell, Mike Fitzgerald, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Romana Graham, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Maritino Nemani, Ross Filipo, Rhys Marshall, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Patrick Osborne, Ben Tameifuna. Kick-off: 3pm
The Dominion Post