Hurricanes hopes go on the line in Hamilton

IN DOUBT: TJ Perenara limped out of Hurricanes training ahead of their final game of the season against the Crusaders.
IN DOUBT: TJ Perenara limped out of Hurricanes training ahead of their final game of the season against the Crusaders.

Faint as the light may be, the Hurricanes must cling desperately to their Super Rugby playoff hopes when they play the Chiefs in Hamilton tonight.

If they don't, the defending champions will happily wrap up the New Zealand conference title with a fortnight to play.

The time has come for the Hurricanes to show a ruthless edge at the end of a season that hasn't quite delivered on its promise.

Talent drips from the Hurricanes team sheet but another mid-table finish beckons unless they can find an extra gear over the next three weeks.

In a nutshell, the Hurricanes need to win all three of their remaining matches and hope the Cheetahs, Crusaders and Blues lose most of theirs.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett distanced his side from playoff permutations in the buildup to the match.

Here's hoping the message in the changing rooms is more blunt because how close the Hurricanes get to the top six will be the off-season yardstick of the ability of coaches and players alike.

Seventh sounds a whole lot better than 10th or 11th.

The Hurricanes have not been idle during the break. They have tweaked their defensive structure and used it well to shut down the Crusaders during a non-competition match.

The absence of 11 internationals has been a challenge but there can be no excuse for a flat performance tonight.

Motivation is not hard to find, and not only in revenge for their 17-12 loss to the Chiefs in Wellington six weeks ago.

The home side have made just one change from that match with Tim Nanai-Williams returning at centre to go head to head with Conrad Smith.

It's one of a number of individual match-ups of significance, none more so than in the halves.

At halfback TJ Perenara gets the perfect chance to push his claims for higher honours against Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

At first five-eighth, Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden will steer their respective teams around the track.

The Hurricanes were conservative in the wet last time the sides met, and despite feeling they had the upper hand up front found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

They'd do well to give the ball a little more air in Hamilton where the Chiefs are more likely to yield out wide than up front.

Barrett is riding high on the confidence of his All Blacks cameos and outside him is a rising star in second five-eighth Reynold Lee-Lo, who squares off against close friend and Counties-Manukau team-mate Bundee Aki.

The more chances wing Julian Savea gets to go one on one with Lelia Masaga the better. Up front Hurricanes loosehead Ben Franks packs down against All Black team-mate Ben Afeaki in what will be a crucial tussle at scrum time.

The Chiefs look to have a slight edge up front where lock Brodie Retallick returns from a hamstring strain.

Front rowers Mahonri Schwalger and Ben Tameifuna provide grunt from the bench for a big finish.

Hurricanes: James Marshall, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith (c), Reynold Lee-Lo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Brad Shields, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Reggie Goodes, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave/Blade Thomson, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi, Alapati Leiua.

Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Aseali Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Andrew Horrell, Charlie Ngatai.

The Dominion Post