Savea cameo sets bar high for Hurricanes
Ardie Savea provided a timely reminder during the final quarter of the Hurricanes' Super Rugby dress rehearsal at Mangatainoka on Saturday.
The teenaged flanker burst on to the field after 65 minutes like he'd been fired out of a cannon.
His efforts were the catalyst for the Hurricanes to cut a 22-7 deficit to one point with 10 minutes to play before a late Gareth Anscombe penalty gave Chiefs the 25-21 win.
Leaving things late won't cut the mustard against a fired up and young Blues side when the Hurricanes open their Super Rugby season at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
Stirring finishes were a team trademark last season, including the rousing win over the Chiefs in the final minute of the final regular season match.
But they weren't enough to reach the playoffs, which should be the Hurricanes' minimum expectation in 2013.
"It's the old story. We back our fitness," Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said on Saturday. "We are a very fit team and you have to remember in Super Rugby you are going to have to wear teams down, and wear them down, and wear them down.
"I think ultimately that's what we did. We ran out of time, but we were playing a game we wouldn't always play against the Chiefs. We wanted to bring in our wide game, but also to try and muscle up a wee bit to finish off the tool box."
The Hurricanes turned down a host of kickable penalties in the first half that would normally have been points in the bank.
But they also turned over too much possession with hopeful off loads and got caught on the short side in defence several times.
As much as pre-season results must be taken with a grain of salt, the impact, energy and desperation of Savea at Mangatainoka should set the bar for kickoff against the Blues.
It impressed Hammett and, though he's coy about who will start, he said he'd seen enough in the past three weeks to settle on his preferred starting 15.
Right wing and prop might remain in limbo for a few days with Matt Proctor and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen being monitored after both took heavy head knocks on Saturday.
Alapati Leiua, who is expected to fill Cory Jane's vacant boots on the right wing, has been struggling with a hamstring strain.
Proctor was impressive for 32 minutes against the Chiefs and must be in consideration, perhaps for a bench role if fit.
Toomaga-Allen appears to have his nose ahead to start at tighthead prop, but if he's ruled out Ben May will presumably start, with Ben Franks at loosehead and Reggie Goodes providing cover.
Whoever starts, Hammett is looking for a little more accuracy in the clean out, an area where the Chiefs were successful in slowing the Hurricanes' ball.
"They brought a really physical game around the ruck. We didn't turn a lot over, but we also didn't quite produce the ball as quick as we'd like either," he said. "That's good for us because from what I've seen of the Blues that's been a real strength during the pre-season."
The Dominion Post