Hooker crisis for Canes for big Chiefs clash
It was the names of the hookers not on the Hurricanes team sheet which leapt out when coach Mark Hammett today named his side to play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday night.
A notable TBC hangs over the Hurricanes No 2 jersey as Hammett sweats on the fitness of Dane Coles, Motu Matu'u and Ash Dixon for what is perhaps the most important match of his four year coaching tenure.
Coles is nursing a whack to his calf muscle following Saturday's 16-9 win over the Crusaders, while Matu'u and Dixon both have shoulder problems.
There is less uncertainty about No 8 Victor Vito (calf) and second five eighth Alapati Leiua (ankle) with the pair both ruled out of the Chiefs match.
Brad Shields will start at No 8 with Ardie Savea and Jack Lam playing on the flanks, while Hadleigh Parkes moves into the No 12 jersey for Leiua.
But it is hooker that will dominate the coaching team's thoughts.
If Coles does not pass muster it would be a major blow. The All Black rake has been a massive part of the Hurricanes season, not only for his work around the field, but his steady lineout throwing.
His injury comes at a time when Matu'u is having something of a confidence crisis with his own throwing, while Dixon is short on match fitness after being sidelined with a shoulder niggle.
The other option would be to jam prop Reggie Goodes' massive upper body into the No 2 jersey, though such a risk would be a last resort.
Injuries have put a decent sized dent in the Hurricanes squad with Conrad Smith (broken thumb), Andre Taylor (ankle), Faifili Levave (ankle), Vito, Leiua and the three hookers all missing from the 23.
The situation has seen little used midfielder Cardiff Vaega and flanker Adam Hill named on a bench that lacks punch for what is effectively a Super Rugby knock out match.
The Hurricanes thumped the Chiefs 45-8 when they played at Westpac Stadium earlier this season, but the rivalry has historically been a close one.
The two sides have have played 23 times in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes holding a 12-10 advantage, with a solitary draw.
The Chiefs side is due to be named later today.
Hurricanes: Matt Proctor, Cory Jane, Tim Bateman, Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Jack Lam, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, TBC, Ben Franks. Reserves: TBC, Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes, James Broadhurst, Adam Hill, Chris Smylie, Cardiff Vaega, James Marshall.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have made seven changes to their starting lineup.
Dumped are backs Gareth Anscombe, Dwayne Sweeney, Robbie Fruean, Bundee Aki and Augustine Pulu, along with loosehead prop Pauliasi Manu, from the team that started in the 29-25 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin last Friday night.
Tom Marshall moves from the left wing to fullback in place of Anscombe, while Asaeli Tikoirotuma returns from his World Cup qualifying commitments with Fiji to the right wing.
Others coming in are left wing James Lowe, centre Tim Nanai-Williams, second five-eighth Charlie Ngatai and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Jamie Mackintosh takes Manu's place at loosehead prop in the only forward pack change, while Manu, Pulu, Anscombe and Aki move to the bench, where they join Nick Barrett.
Barrett will cover tighthead prop in place of Josh Hohneck, whose season has been ended by a broken thumb.
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick has recovered from the hip injury he suffered in the Highlanders match.
The match is the Chiefs' final regular-season home game, and Tanerau Latimer, Tikoirotuma and Aki will make their farewells to the Waikato Stadium crowd as all three have signed to play overseas next year.
Chiefs: Tom Marshall, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Taneratu Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Mike Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Nick Barrett, Matt Symons, Tevita Koloamatangi, Augustine Pulu, Gareth Anscombe, Bundee Aki.