Canes calm ahead of Crusaders clash
Uncertainty will battle pride in Christchurch tonight as the Hurricanes try desperately to show they are not the basket-case their results suggest.
There was an odd calm around Hurricanes training on Wednesday as the team searched for some clarity after their bumbling loss in Dunedin.
It should not be misunderstood as a side resigned to defeat. Bubbling behind the silence is a growing anger that so much hard work on the training pitch has yielded so little in the way of results.
Five matches, one win and more questions than answers sums up the Hurricanes season to date.
There is little doubt the team has talent, but losing erodes confidence, creates pressure and leads to hesitation. It's a vicious cycle.
To have any chance against the Crusaders, the Hurricanes need to harness their emotions and let rip. They have little to lose.
Tactical meetings should have been fairly short this week and second five-eighth Tim Bateman hit the nail squarely on the head when he suggested the backs were the key.
In the most tactful of ways, Bateman essentially pointed out that on paper the Hurricanes have the better attacking backline, while the Crusaders have the better forward pack.
Few will argue the point.
Players like TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Conrad Smith, Julian Savea, Alapati Leiua and Andre Taylor are why the Hurricanes have scored 16 tries this season.
With just six tries to their name, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder might cast the occasional jealous glance north but then he will remember the strength of his pack.
The Hurricanes must find a way to remove that trump card and fixing their major weakness last week could hold the key.
Kicking was singled out during team reviews as the main culprit behind a 35-31 loss to the Highlanders. Halves Barrett and Perenara have been told their clearing kicks need to either go out or deep into enemy territory in Christchurch.
And the backs have been ticked off for not identifying space on the counter attack. In other words, when it's on, take a leaf out of Andre Taylor's book and back yourself.
If the Hurricanes do kick, Crusaders wing Johnny McNicholl wouldn't be a silly target after a few wobbly moments under the high ball.
Mostly though, the Hurricanes must maintain their dwindling belief that they are not as far off as most commentators believe.
"The game of rugby comes down to small things like a little mistake and momentum shifts happen like that," Bateman said. "Those things can get on top of you.
"It's been really tough. The toughest thing has been seeing how much hard work's been put in. How well I think we've gone into every game. It's felt like every game we've prepared as best as we possibly could and I've felt we could have won every game.
"Obviously coming out on the other side of that I can see how much the guys hurt ... but I know when we click it's really special."
The Crusaders present the toughest possible place to start any revival. They too are under pressure after two unflattering wins and two losses and will be fired up to honour captain and No 8 Kieran Read's 100th match.
A Hurricanes win is not impossible. Under Hammett the Hurricanes have beaten his former side twice in five attempts.
There was a late 29-28 win in Wellington last year and a meritorious 23-22 win in Christchurch in 2012.
The current Hurricanes squad remains capable of a repeat. The question after five difficult weeks is whether they really believe it