No 8 Kieran Read's benching hard to fathom
Kieran Read's bizarre non-selection wasn't the only confidence boost for the Hurricanes as they eyed up the Crusaders and the first of two potential lifelines to Super Rugby's playoffs.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder threw an unexpected curve ball into the build up to tomorrow's match by naming the world's best No 8 on his reserves bench behind Luke Whitelock.
The Hurricanes' decision to park weary Samoan openside Jack Lam on their reserves bench and toss the No 7 jersey to game-hungry youngster Ardie Savea made perfect sense for a side that needs a late season spark if they are to propel themselves into the top six.
Lam shouldered a big load through Samoa's June test series and coach Mark Hammett has decided his banged-up body would be better suited to a cameo.
Blackadder's benching of Read is more difficult to fathom or explain. Since playing against the Force on May 30, he has had just 40 minutes of rugby, against England during the third test as he's battled concussion-related symptoms.
All sensibilities suggest a fully fit Read would be chomping at the bit this week to start what is a vital match for both the Crusaders and Hurricanes.
One hopes there is not more to it, but cannot help but wonder.
"I'm not sure how Kieran's health is to be honest," Hammett said when asked if he was surprised Read was not starting. "I've heard rumours. I hope he's all right."
Hammett then offered that the Hurricanes had gone well at the back end of previous matches and perhaps Blackadder was looking for some more impact in the final quarter.
Either way his absence, along with openside Richie McCaw (ribs), fullback Israel Dagg (knee) and wing Nemani Nadolo, who has not been released by Fiji, will stoke the Hurricanes fires.
New Hurricanes captain Jeremy Thrush summed things up when asked if he was glad McCaw was out and Read on the bench. "I'm not saying the other guys filling their roles won't do a good job, but it's always good testing yourself against the best in the world," he said respectfully, before offering a more honest appraisal. "Look, I'm not saying we won't take it that they're not there."
If Thrush exuded plenty of calm and belief, Ardie Savea was a bundle of energy and excitement after getting a rare start in a big match.
"It's a really big game for the Hurricanes and I'm excited, but at the same time quite nervous," he said. "I'm trying to keep the nerves down and just concentrate on going out and playing my game."
That's exactly what Hammett will be looking for from a player he'll be hoping provides the spark to excite any mentally weary test players.
He confirmed Samoa's test campaign, one which has ruled out blindside Faifili Levave (ankle), had taken a toll on Lam.
"I was hoping he wouldn't get too much game time, but I couldn't get Alama [Ieremia, Samoa's technical adviser] to get him off the field and Jack's a hard guy to get off the field," Hammett joked.
The other notable selection, that of Blade Thomson at lock ahead of James Broadhurst, had been form-related. Hooker Motu Matu'u has a calf problem and has been bracketed on the bench with prop Brendon Edmonds. Matu'u will be given until game day to prove his fitness and if ruled out prop Reggie Goodes will provide cover for starting hooker Dane Coles.
The Dominion Post