Hurricanes game all at sixes and sevens

FEBFAST: Scott Waldrom gives up alcohol for a month to raise awareness for New Zealand's drinking culture.
WAIKATO TIMES
FEBFAST: Scott Waldrom gives up alcohol for a month to raise awareness for New Zealand's drinking culture.

They could have waved to each other as they crossed paths on their way to their new teams.

But while the irony of swapping franchises only to end up playing in the same position against each other is not lost on Taranaki's Scott Waldrom and Waikato's Jack Lam as the Chiefs prepare to take on the Hurricanes tonight, it is also a sign of the times.

Franchise contracting and recruitment that results in player movement all over the country in Super Rugby these days is now a fact of life, while the switch of open-siders Waldrom and Lam to the No6 jersey is just an indication of the fast-paced game it has become.

"It's a bit strange how it worked out. We've pretty much swapped places, but I'm definitely happy I'm up here and looking forward to this, that's for sure," Waldrom said of the routes he and Lam had taken over the summer.

Both the Chiefs and Hurricanes have moved to the twin open-side flanker strategy in their loose forward mix in acknowledgement of the pace of the current game, the role of linking loose forwards in that and the crucial battle for the tackle ball.

The Chiefs have been using Waldrom in concert with incumbent No7 Tanerau Latimer, with athletic stand-in skipper Liam Messam at No8, since burly young No8 Fritz Lee got injured in the first match.

The Hurricanes have followed suit for this game after a two-week hiatus by switching Lam from 7 to 6 and bringing in former Chief Serge Lilo on the open side, with All Black Victor Vito at No8.

"Maybe in the first game we were a little bit messy but certainly last weekend we played as a team and it's only going to get better the more we play together," Waldrom said.

"There's been a bit of criticism that [the combination] is a bit undersized but I certainly don't believe that and we don't believe that – it's three All Blacks, it's not like it's three club players there."

While the more traditional configuration with a strong, ball-running No8 like Lee has been the norm in Chiefs starting XVs, Waldrom said the modern game suited the twin open-side concept.

"I just think the way the game's changed and the advantage being with the attacking team, you don't want too many big ball-runners there, you need guys to link and support and keep the attack going; keep the pressure on the opposition.

"The more guys you've got there who can be link players and can also carry the ball the better and we've got some good ball runners in our tight five, with guys like Isaac Ross, which makes up for the smaller six I guess."

Lam admits the Hurricanes have seen the effectiveness of the Chiefs' combination and borne that in mind in selecting their team.

"We watched the Chiefs and they were pretty strong in that breakdown area, just with their counter-rucking, so we've gone in with the same mentality at that breakdown area," Lam said.

In the Hurricanes' only other match so far (with a cancellation against the Crusaders after the Christchurch earthquake and a bye since) they had been exposed at the breakdown area by the high-flying Highlanders, just as the Chiefs were two weeks ago.

"We've just been hammering that in the last two weeks and by going in with two sevens we will try and combat their two sevens. It should be a good battle."

Lam, who had a fine ITM Cup for Waikato at No7 last season, is modestly surprised to be picked up by a Super Rugby franchise – let alone to be starting a game for the Hurricanes.

"I was just hoping any team would knock on the door. I wasn't expecting anything after the ITM. I was solely focusing on the ITM and anything that came after that was a bonus," he said.

Lam, 23, was picked by the Hurricanes for his versatility with Hawke's Bay open-sider Karl Lowe out injured for the early part of the season and is happy just to be in Super Rugby for the first time.

"It would have been nice to have stayed up there [in Hamilton] but the Hurricanes have given me the opportunity [to start], they've obviously believed in what I could do and I've just been putting my head down, working and learning off the other boys.

"It's just that little window of opportunity and I'm taking it with both hands."

Waldrom is happy to fly under the radar ahead of tonight's matchup with his old team, staying away from any text exchanges with his former team-mates and happy veteran former Hurricanes midfield back Tana Umaga is attracting much of the publicity down in Wellington.

"It's kind of a weird feeling going up against a lot of guys who I'm pretty good mates with having spent five years there previously.

"I guess more of the attention has gone on Tana going back to Wellington so it's taken a bit of heat off me, but I'm happy to be starting and getting the chance to get one back on them," he said.

TEAMS

HURRICANES Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Jayden Hayward, Andre Taylor, Aaron Cruden, Chris Eaton, Victor Vito, Serge Lilo, Jack Lam, Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore (c), John Schwalger. Res: Dane Coles, Anthony Perenise, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, Tyson Keats, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Charlie Ngatai.

CHIEFS Tim Nanai-Williams, Lelia Masaga, Dwayne Sweeney, Tana Umaga, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Liam Messam (c), Tanerau Latimer, Scott Waldrom, Isaac Ross, Craig Clarke, Nathan White, Aled de Malmanche, Ben May. Res: Sona Taumalolo, Hika Elliot, Romana Graham, Fritz Lee, Taniela Moa, Mike Delany, Jackson Willison.

REFEREE Marius Jonker (South Africa). KICKOFF 7.35 tonight at Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

Waikato Times