Bateman shines as injuries deplete Hurricanes
Tim Bateman didn't leave the Crusaders in the best of moods, but he couldn't be happier as he prepares for a match he circled on his calendar the moment he signed with the Hurricanes.
There are a few frowns in the Hurricanes camp after wing Cory Jane limped away from training yesterday in a moon-boot after injuring his ankle.
It compounded a morning that had already seen the withdrawal of halfback TJ Perenara (ankle) and loose forward Jack Lam (concussion) from the squad.
But Bateman continues to be all smiles, one of the success stories of his new team's bright start to the season after arriving back from a two-year stint in Japan.
His sharp running and heads-up kicking game have added a new dimension to the backline and many in the south are wondering why he won't be wearing the red and black of the Crusaders at Westpac Stadium tomorrow night.
"To be honest I wasn't happy with the way it finished up with the Crusaders in my last season," he said. "When I decided to go to Japan those opportunities had moved away. I didn't know if it was going to be there when I got back."
There's no bitterness about one of the nice guys of New Zealand rugby, but it's easy to understand if he felt a bit unwanted at the end of 2010.
The previous year Bateman had started all 14 games during the Crusaders' run to the semifinals, then 13 of 15 matches as Canterbury won the ITM Cup.
But when centre Robbie Fruean arrived from Wellington, Bateman found himself on the sidelines with a paltry three starts and six appearances as Ryan Crotty was preferred at second five.
So when Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett showed Ma'a Nonu the door, Bateman saw a chance to prove, to himself more than anything, that he still had a lot to offer in Super Rugby.
"It was about opportunity," Bateman said yesterday. "I had a better opportunity up here and I think it's turned out well. There was a spot for me here.
"Hammer [Mark Hammett] was the first to approach me from Japan and I had a lot of talks to him about things and it just seemed the right place to come to. It was a new start and he talked about a lot of exciting young talent coming through.
"I keep in touch with a lot of the Crusaders guys and the coaches. It was nothing bitter at all, but I'm really enjoying the shift to the Hurricanes."
Bateman's young family – he's a father of two – recently moved up to Wellington and he says he's settled on and off the field, believing his time in Japan made him a better and more creative player.
"As a back you get a lot more touches and a lot more pressure to create. With the Crusaders I think I fell into a bit too much structure in just going along with the game plan and really not looking to create out of the game plan as much."
It's obvious that playing against the Crusaders, who he represented 35 times, as well as unexpectedly marking Dan Carter means a lot to the 24-year-old.
The Crusaders will understandably start the match as favourites and their chances were done no harm when Perenara, who injured his ankle playing basketball on Monday, was replaced by Chris Eaton, meaning a place in the reserves for Wainuiomata's Frae Wilson.
The decision to rest Lam, who suffered concussion against the Sharks two weeks ago, means Mark Reddish will take his place on the bench.
It remained unclear last night how serious Jane's injury was, but Crusaders opposite Sean Maitland (ankle) will not play, with Adam Whitelock taking his place on the right wing.
Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Chris Eaton, Victor Vito, Faifili Levave, Karl Lowe, Jeremy Thrush, Jason Eaton, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben May. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Michael Bent, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Frae Wilson, Tusi Pisi, Alapati Leiua.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Dan Carter, Zac Guildford, Tom Taylor, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Tom Donnelly, Ben Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Ryan Crotty, Tom Marshall.