Hammett to shuffle Hurricanes to beat burnout
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has his microscope out as he looks for a slightly more comfortable way of winning against the Cheetahs in Wellington on Saturday.
Heading into round six, the Hurricanes have assumed a golden glow, sixth on the Super Rugby ladder and riding a wave of self-belief that has become a tsunami in the wake of an amazing win over the Blues.
Hammett plans to change his starting XV and tinker with his game plan ahead of a winnable match against South Africa's cellar dwellers.
"I don't want to get into the situation of going OK now, and then eight, nine, 10 weeks down the track we burn out," he said yesterday. "It's bloody difficult but I know for us this week, around selections, I will be making changes.
"I'm not 100 per cent sure where, but it's got nothing to do with disrespecting the next opposition. We have a long competition and we just have to do it. Down the track if we want to keep pushing on and getting improvement in our game we need to use our whole squad."
That could mean a deserved rest for heavily used players like flankers Jack Lam and Faifili Levave, or perhaps locks Jason Eaton and Jeremy Thrush.
With openside Karl Lowe now fit and available for his first appearance of the season, blindside Brad Shields crying for an opportunity and lock James Broadhurst fresh as a daisy, there is quality to call on.
Such luxury speaks volumes of where the Hurricanes sit on two fronts.
Firstly, there are only two players from the original squad – halfback Chris Smylie and prop Reggie Goodes – unavailable, a contrast to many injury-ravaged rivals.
And secondly, there is genuine confidence in the backup men, players used early off the bench who have had a material impact on all three of the side's wins.
One area Hammett will not be changing is his team's defence; he proudly claimed a 96 per cent tackle accuracy rate against the Blues.
The Hurricanes' own statistics suggest the forwards made 118 tackles at Eden Park and missed just two, but it is how they pulled up post-match that most pleased their coaches.
"They aren't coming off knackered. In a good defensive system you aren't coming off as tired because there's a mixture of guys making the tackles, not just one or two people," Hammett said. "The way the guys looked after the game and the next day I think you can see the load is being shared and that goes back to our team focus and their fitness."
But if it all sounds rosy, Hammett doesn't believe a 26-25 win over the Blues has suddenly elevated the Hurricanes to playoff contenders.
His biggest concern is their inability to place opponents under pressure early in matches. Two of the side's three wins, over the Lions and Blues, have been by a whisker. Being more clinical on attack will be a focal point ahead of a Cheetahs side that pushed the Crusaders close in a 28-21 loss in Christchurch on Saturday.
"We've had two weeks in a row where we've been down by 10 points and 13 points and had to come back. And it's been our own doing," Hammett said, citing several missed opportunities in the opening quarter against the Blues. "You can build pressure on another team, but you release it if you don't nail those situations."
The 13th-placed Cheetahs are something of a mystery. They lost by a whisker to the Lions and Brumbies, were thrashed by the Bulls, beaten by the Rebels but tested the Crusaders.
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