Aaron Cruden's debut, strong defence, four tries and some sparkling back play – there was a lot to like about the Hurricanes' 26-5 Super 14 pre-season win against the Brumbies in Porirua yesterday.
About 4000 fans were treated to some refreshing running rugby as referee Vinny Munro showed the benefits of new interpretations at the tackle ball and kick.
Continuity was the order of the day as both sides held the ball for long periods with the Hurricanes early defence taking the sting out of an impressive Brumbies opening quarter.
Munro had no time for tacklers trying to play the ball before they got to their feet and Hurricanes openside flanker Karl Lowe was rightly sinbinned after ignoring several warnings.
Noticeable too, the chase lines were further back as players waited to be put onside from kicks and both sides' counter-attack flourished.
Among it all, it was hard to escape Cruden's impact in his first run in a Hurricanes jersey with the Manawatu pivot entering the match at halftime and making a clean line break with his first touch of the ball.
Cruden directed play well, kicked accurately and wasn't afraid to take on the line with three tries coming under his watch and some slick wide passing in the backs.
"He's very good isn't he?" Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper said of his new first-five. "Certainly he showed that spark he can offer the team. We are pleased for him to get through, he went well."
Cruden couldn't hide his smile after finally pulling on the Hurricanes jersey.
"I was pretty apprehensive when I first came down here, but they've made me feel welcome. They're a really tight group of guys and I think I've fitted in well and I'm relishing it."
He admitted he felt some degree of expectation from the public this season, but didn't believe it would affect his game.
Cruden wasn't the only player to shine with returning All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane and Tamati Ellison all looking sharp and young backs Alapati Leiua and Charlie Ngatai again marking themselves as future stars.
"I was especially pleased with Ma'a today," Cooper said. "The whole week, he went out and made his presence felt today and all of the All Blacks have come into the camp this week with that attitude."
In the pack Scott Waldrom was strong again, especially defensively, and Jason Eaton was busy off the bench in the second spell after replacing an also impressive Api Naikatini who was called in late after the withdrawal of Michael Paterson.
The Hurricanes opened the scoring after half an hour when Nonu's long miss pass put fullback Andre Taylor into space from a scrum.
Taylor, who organised the counter-attack well, switched the ball inside to Gear who left several Brumbies defenders gasping in a 25m sprint to the line.
It was a sign of things to come as the Hurricanes backs relished the hard track after halftime.
Two skip passes nearly produced the try of the match when wing David Smith scorched into space before laying up a backhand pass to Ellison, who was adjudged to be out as he placed the ball in the corner.
Minutes later Ellison's flat pass put 19-year-old Ngatai, too young to be in the Hurricanes' official wider training group, free down the touch line where his chip and chase produced his second try in as many weeks.
Jane chimed in from the wing then passed inside for hooker Dane Coles to stretch the lead to 21-0 and lock Jason Eaton dotted down after a lineout drive before the Brumbies grabbed a late consolation try to big loose forward Sitaleki Tamani.
- The Dominion Post