Hurricanes defend oddball tactics in preseason

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014
Benji Marshall
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

GOOD START: Benji Marshall prepares to slip a pass against the Hurricanes in their pre-season rugby match in Masterton on Saturday.

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Giving the ball back to the opposition on purpose is a strange game plan.

Hence, the Hurricanes looked an odd, if not slightly misguided, bunch during the opening exchanges of their 2014 Super Rugby campaign in Masterton on Saturday.

Most of the 6000 strong sell-out crowd was too busy watching Blues pivot Benji Marshall to care much about tactics, but there was method to the home side's madness.

"Our plan, believe it or not, for the first 10 minutes was to kick the ball just so they could attack us," first five-eighth Marty Banks revealed after the Hurricanes' 38-35 preseason win at Memorial Park.

"It was quite daunting being me because if I had a penalty I had to kick it straight down the middle and looked like a bit of a clown, but that's what we were doing."

The tactics were revealing for a franchise that struggled badly in defence last season and suggest the coaching staff are determined to create a Hurricanes side as strong in defence as they are on attack.

"It's been a big focus for us in the preseason, our defence and getting the tactics right there," Banks said. "It wasn't 100 per cent right today, but where we wanted to be perfect we sort of showed it can work and we clicked for 5 or 10 minutes and created some points off it."

In fact, the Hurricanes' defence created two tries during the first quarter with Banks racing 80 metres from an intercept and wing Andre Taylor finishing off another long range counter attack.

"We created a few turnovers and obviously a few points so hopefully the coaches are happy with us," Banks said.

Partly will be the answer when coach Mark Hammett goes through the tape of a match in which his side scored six, but conceded five tries.

"There were a few things we were working on and we probably didn't get as much as we wanted out of attack given we were defending for a lot of it. And there's a pretty obvious work on there around defence," Hammett said.

"The systems weren't too bad, but individual tackling needs some work on. But it was first game so we're not going to point fingers too much at the moment. That will become evident in our review."

Sorting a few midfield mix ups will be top of the to-do list with Blues centre George Moala making a number of costly clean breaks.

Without 14 of their top players the match was of course not a true pointer to the season proper, but Hammett will be pleased with a number of individuals.

Banks should be top of that list. The Tasman pivot played with poise and confidence and outshone Marshall, who departed after a solid enough 40 minutes.

Beauden Barrett will return at first five-eighth, but Banks, signed primarily as a fullback, made a strong statement about his readiness to step up to Super rugby.

The Hurricanes looked strong in the final quarter with Ardie Savea, Motu Matu'u and Brad Shields upping the intensity to pull back a sizeable deficit.

Lock James Broadhurst also had some pleasing moments late in the match, scoring the winning try and stealing a crucial Blues lineout in the dying minutes.

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The Hurricanes head to Geelong next weekend to play the Rebels with a host of top players set to return to action.

- The Dominion Post

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