Hammett gambling on Smylie

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014
Chris Smylie
CAMERON BURNELL/ Fairfax NZ

STARTING BERTH: Chris Smylie given a chance to start for the Hurricanes at half back.

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Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett continues to roll the dice with his selections.

Halfback TJ Perenara has been dropped to the reserves for Chris Smylie in one of six changes to the starting XV named to play the Cheetahs in Wellington tomorrow.

Few will take issue with Hammett's appraisal of Perenara's sub-par performance during last week's 29-21 loss to the Brumbies, but it's a ballsy time to remove a potential match-winner from the lineup.

Perenara's kicking from the base of the scrum was poor against the Brumbies, while there were a couple of wild passes, and a bad defensive read.

But he also scored one of his side's two tries, had been in solid form over the opening two weeks of Super Rugby, and possesses the sort of x-factor the Hurricanes desperately need.

''TJ will probably be the talking point, but I feel like Smylie can just offer a little more speed at the ruck,'' Hammett said yesterday.

''I've talked to TJ about his game and some of the areas he needs to work on. I know what he's like. He came back from a dreadful ankle injury bigger, faster, stronger and I know he'll come back from this setback.''

That may be true, but the Hurricanes will not come back from a fourth straight Super Rugby loss if they do not front against the Cheetahs.

Hammett has placed a lot of faith in 31-year-old veteran Smylie, a player who started just once last season and whose career has bounced from the Highlanders to the Hurricanes, to the Blues and back again since his Super Rugby debut in 2006.

That's not to say the likable father of two won't nail his opportunity. Smylie's a tough rooster with an eye for a gap, but breaking up the Perenara-Beauden Barrett axis before its fired a shot could backfire.

Hammett has added some flair in finally starting openside Ardie Savea, but at the expense of Jack Lam, probably the side's best player in the first two matches.

''Jack's had a hell of a workload and when I saw him on Monday morning he was just beat up so I thought it was time that Ardie got his opportunity,'' Hammett said.

''We are fortunate to have two loosies like Ardie and Jack. I was considering leaving Jack right out but he was adamant he wanted to be here and take his place on the bench.''

As tough as openside is, it's hard to fathom how a player like Lam is burnt out this early in the season, while rookie No 8 Blade Thomson is deemed OK to carry on for a fourth straight week.

And there is a gamble too in restoring tight head prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen to a starting role against the Cheetahs after his struggles in South Africa.

The scrum has been solid with John Schwalger at tighthead, but Hammett said he was wary of running up too many miles on loose head Ben Franks' clock.

''One of the big reasons for that is Ben Franks has played three 80-minute games. I want to have the ability to put Johnny on at loose head if I need to and if I start him [at tight head] I don't feel like I can put him over later in the game.''

The other change to the pack sees Faifili Levave return from concussion to take Adam Hill's place at blindside.

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In the backs Alapati Leiua starts on the left wing in place of Cory Jane who is out with a broken nose, and Hadleigh Parkes has recovered from a shoulder injury to replace Cardiff Vaega at second five-eighth.

These are nervous times for the Hurricanes and their coach who will be hoping his latest punts hit pay dirt on Saturday afternoon.

TEAMS

Hurricanes: James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c ), Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Chris Smylie, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Chris Eves, John Schwalger, James Broadhurst, Jack Lam, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Marty Banks.

Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Francois Venter, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lodewyk de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (c ), Caylib Ooshuizen. Reserves: Ryno Barnes, Trevor Nyakane, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Jean Cook, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Hennie Daniller

- The Dominion Post

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