Canes should focus on winning, forget rest

Here's hoping the Hurricanes name their best available side this weekend against the Rebels.

Development, rest and rotation have become catchcries in New Zealand rugby in recent years and they are all concepts based on logic and common sense.

However, recent weeks have raised questions over exactly where these ideas fit in the Super Rugby environment.

Two weeks ago Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder named Andy Ellis, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg in the reserves. Off they trotted to Melbourne and received a humbling 28-19 loss to the lowly Rebels.

Fast-forward a week, Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett rested blindside flanker Faifili Levave and put brilliant first five-eighth Beauden Barrett in the reserves.

His side duly lost 25-16 to the Brumbies. This crucial result might yet cost the Hurricanes a place in the playoffs.

Of course, Barrett and Levave may not have changed the result. And it would be wrong to say their replacements Tusi Pisi or Brad Shields were the reasons for the loss.

But it left many paying fans asking why? Why take the risk?

Coaches talk about managing workloads, keeping players fresh, and using the whole squad.

But are these concepts in danger of overruling the No1 priority? Does resting your star players show a ruthless pursuit of the playoffs?

Nobody can deny the rugby calendar asks a lot of top players. The human body can take only so many batterings in a row, particular in the forwards.

Depth is crucial. Everyone must play a part whether in training or via 20-minute cameos off the bench and the Hurricanes bench has been one of the most fruitful around in providing impact and energy.

But, was there an element of development at play in giving Shields a start against the Brumbies because he will undoubtedly be a cornerstone in years to come?

And did Barrett and Levave really need a rest when a month-long break for the All Blacks' June tests is just a few weeks away?

Wouldn't the Rebels be a better bet to make risky changes than the Australian-conference leading Brumbies?

Of course, all was forgiven down Christchurch way as the Crusaders, restored to full strength, steamrolled the Blues to remain on course for the playoffs.

Not so for a Hurricanes side that had worked so hard and showed so much character to get itself into a position of real strength by beating the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Its task now is not impossible.

Thoughts of next year, no matter how encouraging they already look, should be shelved till the playoffs are truly out of reach.

The Dominion Post