Hammett stands firm on Ardie Savea omission
Mark Hammett couldn't avoid the sideshow.
The Hurricanes coach found himself under siege yesterday after benching his young openside Ardie Savea for the second week running.
Even with Faifili Levave ruled out after failing a concussion test, Savea still wasn't named in the Hurricanes loose trio to play the Brumbies at Westpac Stadium tomorrow night.
There are two changes to the side that lost to the Stormers in Cape Town with Adam Hill coming in at blindside and James Marshall replacing Marty Banks at fullback.
Not that anyone seems fussed about Marshall's return from hip surgery, or, in fact, who played fullback at all.
"Jack Lam for us has been outstanding, he was probably our outstanding player on tour and he's a Samoan international, so firstly Ardie has to overcome that," Hammett said to the first of a dozen questions about Savea's failure to get a start.
"The other side is Ardie will see time and plenty of time through this season. He's a fantastic player and guy we're looking forward to seeing him out there."
At 20, Savea was still progressing in size, strength and experience.
"He's a very good player, but he's a young player and like anyone who has either made the All Blacks or made Super teams, they are still learning, they still have parts of their trade to improve on and Ardie's no different. He's working hard behind the scenes.
"There are elements not just on the field. He has to work hard on his strength and size, but that takes time. You don't just put size on in five minutes or even five months. He's got targets of where he wants to go and he makes up for it with his power and speed.
"There seems to be a big fuss about it at the moment, but I don't know what the fuss is to be honest. He's a great player and in time he's going to get there."
There was plenty of truth in Hammett's words, though one could launch a decent argument for playing Lam and Savea as a left-right openside combination against the Brumbies.
To be fair to Hammett, his hand has been forced due to knee injuries to Victor Vito and Brad Shields and now Levave's concussion.
He has reasoned that Hill's superior height and grinding, ruck cleaning, body-on-the-line style will be more useful against the physical Brumbies forwards and that Savea has more value right now as an impact player.
It's not insanity, but still, the media pack wasn't satisfied.
One inquirer seemed to be determined to find an off-field issue behind the selection. A dramatic headline beckoned. Was their a disciplinary matter?
Hammett looked miffed, then slightly annoyed before eventually telling the reporter.
"I don't really want to go into it to be quite honest, mate. He knows what it is [he has to work on] and we're really clear. He's in a really great space and that's all I want to say."
Savea then came out full of smiles and, though a tad frustrated at his game time thus far, said he couldn't wait for tomorrow's match and had no issues with his coaches.
Whatever the case, the sideshow to the Hurricanes team naming highlighted how important tomorrow's match has become.
The wider public has zeroed in on a side that is packed with promise but has not made a winning start to the season.
The natives are getting restless and only a win at Westpac Stadium will douse their doubts.
"I think we're about a 6.5 out of 10 in terms of on field," Hammett said. "Off field I think we're about 8.5 or 9. We just have to put all that work that's gone in off the field on to it. We have to avoid turnovers, we get that right and we'll be very very close.
"We've played two of the top teams in South Africa. It's a hard start, but we're not far off and that second game we should have won.
"Home games are critical to win and you have to get a few away from home. We're under no illusion how important it is to start well here."
Hurricanes: James Marshall, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (captain), Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson, Jack Lam, Adam Hill, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, John Schwalger, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Chris Eves, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, James Broadhurst, Ardie Savea, Chris Smylie, Alapati Leiua, Marty Banks.