Perenara: We are playing to our strengths

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 28/04/2014

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Forget Israel Folau and his Waratahs, the Hurricanes say their focus will remain largely on themselves as they look to extend their winning run into uncharted territory in Sydney on Saturday.

The Mark Hammett Coaching Revival Tour has helped his side climb to the top of Super Rugby's New Zealand conference on the back of their bonus-point win over the Reds on Saturday.

Their fourth straight win equalled Hammett's longest streak during his tumultuous tenure and provided further evidence of a side increasingly looking like playoff contenders.

Hammett will have the luxury of picking from an injury-free and in-form squad when he names a 23-strong team to cross the Tasman on Thursday for a crucial two-match Australian tour.

The question on everyone's mind is how a side that looked so lost during the opening month of the season has transformed into a points scoring machine and notched up six bonus points and 31 tries.

Halfback TJ Perenara said a shift in thinking this season was allowing the players to harness their natural abilities.

"For a majority of my time with the Hurricanes, we have focused on what other teams did well and tried to exploit their weaknesses," he said.

"We still do that but this year we've put an onus on knowing what we do well, knowing our game and how we feel most comfortable playing the game. That's what I feel has really helped.

"Our preparation week to week is about us a lot of the time and how we can play the game, and how we enjoy playing the game and what we can do well, and I think that's been a big difference for us."

Though it had taken a few weeks for the players to work out how to play their natural games within the coaches' structure, Perenara said the philosophy had not changed.

"That's come from up top from Hammer and Al [assistant coach Alama Ieremia]. They wanted us to enjoy our footy, and they put an onus on finding out what each individual does well and what we do well as a team. Sometimes, if you play too much to another team's weakness, you go away from your strength and end up nullifying both of them."

Hammett did not rate the Hurricanes' performance against the Reds their best but said they had shown mental toughness not to get ahead of themselves.

"It's a good feeling and it's good because there was a pressure to win the game to get to that position [top of the NZ conference] and we didn't hide from the fact that if we won, we could achieve that."

Hammett acknowledged an improved kicking game, particularly out of defence, had been a major factor in the side's recent form.

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"Sometimes when something gets smacked in your face as hard as it did for us at the beginning of the year, you either keep going and it becomes an insanity, or you fix it - and we did.

"We put a lot of work into it and we got our outsides to take the pressure off our insides in terms of the calls and the direction, and then let those boys [Perenara and Beauden Barrett] take over when we are on attack."

The changes were all too evident against the Reds as the Hurricanes played the majority of the second half in their opponents' territory, the pressure eventually leading to points.

"I'm happy with the guys, and they should be confident with what they are doing, but we have a really hard road trip to Aussie," Hammett said. "The Waratahs, from my perspective, are the most physical Australian side I've seen for a long time."

- The Dominion Post

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