Holes in the Hurricanes' defence hard to fix

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 21/05/2012

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Shifting Beauden Barrett to fullback and Andre Taylor to the wing might plug the gap left by injured wing Cory Jane, but it won't fix the holes in the Hurricanes defence.

Coach Mark Hammett said the retention of Samoan international Tusi Pisi at first five-eighth is being considered ahead of Saturday's must-win match against the Melbourne Rebels.

"With CJ being out [for up to six weeks] there are a few ways we can go. We can keep Andre at fullback and bring in one of our wings, or we can play Beaudy at fullback and bring Andre to the wing," Hammett said yesterday.

"I thought when we had the ball [against the Brumbies] we got some good go-forward and a lot of that was a round Tusi and his ability to play flat and find space.

"That's the discussion we need to get through and we'll ultimately have that decision made by [tonight]. Beauden's very good at fullback and he actually performed well there ... it's about what's best for the team, not what's best for Beauden or Tusi."

Jack Lam is a ready-made replacement for desperately unlucky openside Karl Lowe, who is out for four to six weeks with yet another knee injury.

But one wonders if what's best is the least disruptive plan in the backs – to just restore Alapati Leiua to the wing.

Whatever the case, it should play second-fiddle to the fixing the defence and Hammett plans to ask some hard questions during today's review session.

They will centre on a defence that took two steps forward against the Blues and Highlanders, but a giant one backwards during a 37-25 loss to the Brumbies, that's seen the Hurricanes drift to ninth on the ladder.

The tape will show that at least half a dozen players missed second half tackles. Too often defenders appeared to drift too fast for the man on their inside, leaving ineffective arms flapping.

The Hurricanes have given up a woeful 346 points this season, which at an average of a shade under 29 points per game, is the worst in the competition.

But Hammett defended the system, saying it was concentration levels that needed to improve.

"Across the board we only had three blatant miss tackles," he said.

"They're individual errors. I could go and show the missed tackles, but they are just blatant miss tackles. There's nothing wrong with the system, we were never short of numbers, that side of it was sorted.

"For us, those individual errors were costly. In our review we will be focusing on that individual mindset. Even though the defensive system was all right, I felt we lacked some collective intensity."

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What is clear is a valuable win went begging because the Hurricanes failed to do the basics in the final half hour.

TJ Perenara, otherwise brilliant, threw a horrible low pass to Pisi, always solid Tim Bateman got himself in no-mans land, the scrum failed to secure a feed on the goal line. The list went on.

And players made poor decisions on the kick chase, often reaching for the ball when simply targeting the catcher was a better option.

For all that, all is not lost. The Hurricanes' try-scoring ability is intact, their set piece vastly improved, and the playoffs still mathematically within reach due to the 24 competition points still on offer. The simple question, perhaps, is how badly they want them.

- The Dominion Post

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