Supporting players light up Hurricanes bright start to Super Rugby season
Star players are a dime a dozen in the Hurricanes squad but it is the support cast that suggests coach Chris Boyd's bright start is not a flash in the 2015 pan.
Boyd's Boys - it has a nice ring to it - arrived in Perth today atop the Super Rugby log, injury free and brimming with confidence after getting the better of the Bulls' forward pack in Pretoria.
The Hurricanes started a season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2010 but Boyd was quick to put some perspective on their form after Saturday's 17-12 win at Loftus Versfeld.
Ma'a Nonu's poor pass in his 22 nearly let the Bulls off the hook.
Beauden Barrett's ropey goal kicking kept the score close.
Ben Franks' missed tackle on Jessie Kriel cost a try.
And, by Boyd's count, poor option taking cost three tries in the first half.
Some better goal kicking by the Lions in Johannesburg and a less forgiving television match official call on the high veldt, and the Hurricanes could as easily be 0-2.
There is much work to do and leaders like Nonu, Barrett and Franks will drive that message home.
But as Boyd and assistant John Plumtree pick the side to play the Force, they can afford a moment to celebrate the biggest positive to come out of Africa.
Players like prop Reggie Goodes, lock Mark Abbott, loose forwards Callum Gibbins and Brad Shields, second five-eighth Rey Lee-Lo and fullback Jason Woodward have all stood up to be counted early in the season.
When asked about the influence of his many All Blacks after the Bulls match, Boyd's response was telling:
"I think they've been part of it but that would be grossly unfair to those other guys [to suggest they've been the main factor]," he said.
"I think TJ Perenara has had two pretty good games but I don't think any of those other guys think they are playing anywhere near the top of their games.
"I think there's plenty of miles to come out of all of those guys."
In other words, the All Blacks were always likely to start a tad slowly.
The worry for Boyd was whether the rest of the side would take up the slack.
Goodes has been a revelation.
He got his chance, when Jeffery Toomaga-Allen's knee flared up, and took it with both hands.
Shields has rolled his sleeves up.
Woodward has quickly put his poor provincial season form in the rear view mirror, and Gibbins has shown the ship won't sink without Ardie Savea in the No 7 jersey.
In past seasons, the Hurricanes' so-called lesser lights have not exactly shone and in a World Cup year they will be more crucial than ever as the All Blacks sit out two rostered rest weeks each.
That won't happen in Perth, with Boyd able to rest weary bodies during the bye round the following week.
"If we stay injury free, we have a significant number of guys we feel comfortable we can put on the field and they'll do a job for us," Boyd said.
Depth counts. It creates a competitive edge at training but also belief that the bench can close out, or save, matches in the final quarter.
There could be a temptation to start fit-again fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder against the Force, while loose forwards Ardie Savea and Victor Vito could add some punch to the attack, but wholesale changes would be an unnecessary risk.
With the bye on the horizon, the Hurricanes should empty the tank in a bid to go 3-0.
Boyd's reaction to the Hurricanes' perfect start says much about how he wants the season to play out.
He has watched too many promising Hurricanes' seasons end badly.
Last time they started 3-0 was in 2010 but they did not win again for six long weeks and eventually finished an all-too-familiar eighth.
- The Dominion Post