For the Hurricanes, backing up is hard to do

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
Hurricanes
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JOB WELL DONE: Hurricanes pair Beuaden Barrett and Victor Vito embrace at the end of their team's surprise hammering of the Chiefs.

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That nagging feeling remains when it comes to the Hurricanes.

Rightly or wrongly, many are still waiting for coach Mark Hammett's side to slip on a banana skin at the tail end of a season that remains in the balance against the wounded Blues at Eden Park tonight.

Off the back of a 45-8 demolition of the Chiefs, the Hurricanes deserve their favouritism at the TAB, but it's not a tag that has traditionally sat comfortably on their shoulders.

Even their current form has an asterisk in the form of a rollercoaster past five weeks that saw encouraging wins over the Reds and Rebels followed by losses to the Waratahs and Highlanders.

"Yep, that's still our challenge," said form first five-eighth Beauden Barrett. "Last week we came off a loss to the Highlanders and backed up really well against the Chiefs. In the past we may have struggled after a really good win to keep our feet on the ground."

It's that sort of self-awareness the Hurricanes coaching staff have worked hard to instil in the side this season, and Barrett has noticed a more level response to the inevitable ups and downs of the Super Rugby grind.

"That's a trait some teams can get into [getting too far ahead of yourselves], but with us we know we have to stick to our routine after a win.

"When we lost to the Highlanders it was the same thing. Now we have to make sure we do our preparation and stick to what's been good for us . . . our clarity, our analysis. Just because we had a big win doesn't mean anything to us at this stage."

Barrett is right. A seventh loss would effectively scupper the Hurricanes' playoff chances going into the June test break.

And as encouraging as the rout of the Chiefs was, the Blues present an entirely different opponent in the tight five where All Blacks front-rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock are warming to their work and lock Patrick Tuipulotu is a force to himself.

Those players will not have forgotten the midseason touchup they received from the Hurricanes pack at Westpac Stadium where a 39-20 scoreline flattered the Blues.

The Hurricanes will be concerned at their diminishing propping stocks after loosehead Ben Franks succumbed to a groin injury. Reggie Goodes will need to step up against Blues tighthead Charlie Faumuina, while Jeffery Toomaga-Allen faces Woodcock.

One injury and the Hurricanes scrum could be reliant on little-used Chris Eves and Brendon Edmonds.

On the flipside, the Hurricanes are sure to target young Blues first five-eighth Ihaia West. The Hawke's Bay pivot has looked the goods off the bench, but in his Super Rugby starting debut poses a different challenge.

West's running game will bring second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu into the attack, but he can expect plenty of defensive work as ball carriers such as Faifili Levave, James Broadhurst, Alapati Leiua and Julian Savea aim down his channel.

The Hurricanes would do well to keep things simple.

Last time they visited Eden Park a complicated kicking game blew up in their face, but a year on they appear to be a side that knows its strengths.

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Keep the ball in hand, be direct with their ball-carrying in midfield, and back themselves to go wide when Barrett sees space and they may snap the Blues' five-match unbeaten run at Eden Park. Hesitate and they'll limp into June wondering what might have been.

- The Dominion Post

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