Robson: Canes need a rethink, not a meltdown

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014
TJ Perenara
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HELD BACK? T.J. Perenara was unable to show off his running game in his side's loss to the Highlanders.

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OPINION: Finding answers rather than pointing fingers must be the focus for the Hurricanes as they try to at least partially dig their way out of the hole they find themselves in.

Continuing calls for coach Mark Hammett's head won't help the side when it heads south to Christchurch to meet the well-rested Crusaders.

Regardless of the coach's fate, there are 11 matches to play in the 2014 season and the Hurricanes cannot afford to throw their hands up and start focusing on a fresh start next year.

And so they should look to the Crusaders clash as a chance to have a rethink. After one win from five matches their current plans are clearly not working.

Only a blind man could not see this side are not playing to their potential. Forgetting the flattering 35-31 scoreline in in Dunedin it is hard to remember a more error-ridden Hurricanes performance.

Yes, the Hurricanes got a rough deal from referee Nick Briant during the opening quarter. Probably four of his six penalties came from poor calls.

But it is the sort of red herring the Hurricanes cannot afford to chase. They are their own worst enemies.

On the selection front the likely return of Tim Bateman from a knee injury would alleviate ongoing issues at second five-eighth where Hadleigh Parkes is the latest to struggle.

But the real changes must come in the way the Hurricanes are playing.

Hammett says the team are not shackled by instructions, but their actions and words suggest they are not comfortable with whatever they are trying to do.

Chris Smylie said before the Cheetahs match that the players wanted to get back to "old Canes rugby" and Beauden Barrett expressed similar sentiments yesterday.

Hammett has focused on "execution" as the side's major issue. That's partly true, but perhaps the deeper problem is the game-plan does not suit the skill set.

The Hurricanes are on the whole, a poor tactical kicking team.

Yet most the counter attack seems to be based on kick and chase. How many times this season have high kicks gone straight up and down for no net gain? Who is coaching the kicking and catching?

And why is the exit strategy based around the halfback having a high contestable box kick and someone else a long raking punt? TJ Perenara and Barrett are outrageous talents, but those traits are not their strong points.

A review of the Highlanders match is telling and the Hurricanes first three attempts at clearing their 22m line provide the snap-shot.

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1) James Broadhurst sets the ruck, but Marty Banks misses touch with a wobbly kick, which is run back by Ben Smith, then drilled back into the Hurricanes 22m for a defensive lineout.

2) A lineout is won, but Perenara passes high and through Jack Lam's hands. The situation is rescued and the ball scrambled out by Perenara giving the Highlanders an attacking lineout on the 22.

3) Parkes throw a wild pass behind Broadhurst. The ensuing scramble sees Perenara kick aimlessly up field inviting an easy Ben Smith counter before Brad Thorn smashes past Broadhurst and into the 22.

And so it continued.

Straight after halftime, Ardie Savea got good go-forward from the lineout, but Barrett missed touch with his clearance and the Highlanders reset their attack on the 22.

When Perenara intercepted what seemed a likely try in the second half, he immediately missed touch with his kick allowing Ben Smith's counter to put Phil Burleigh under the posts.

Perenara did not run for one yard during the first half. Whether that was instruction or poor option taking, it was a waste of his greatest talent.

So was it all poor execution, or part of an ill-advised plan?

And did Andre Taylor highlight the team's real strength with his late, game-changing cameo?

The Hurricanes need to find out, and fast.

- The Dominion Post

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