Crusaders clash has finals feel for Hurricanes

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 29/06/2012
Chris Eaton
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
UP FOR IT: Chris Eaton at Hurricanes training.

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Chris Eaton's not the type to step down from a challenge.

And it's a good thing because the Hurricanes halfback has got a fairly big one tomorrow in Christchurch.

Eaton's been handed the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of TJ Perenara, a player in the process of a breakout season until he broke his ankle in Brisbane two weeks ago.

And it doesn't help that the Hurricanes' next opponent happens to be the Crusaders, in what amounts to a virtual playoff match.

Throw in fired-up All Black discard Andy Ellis as his opposite number and Eaton could be forgiven for lacking a bit of enthusiasm.

Not likely.

"It's a massive opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it," the Hawke's Bay halfback said yesterday. "It's pretty much our final. We aren't looking past this game. We want to win this game and we need to."

Off the field, Eaton's one of the more understated members of the Hurricanes squad. The 28-year-old father of one is a team man rather than a star turn, not the type to talk himself up.

But on the pitch he's no wallflower, and when he's not working on his game, he can often be found doing Brazilian Jujitsu at Lyall Bay.

And his fiery side came out during a rare start against the Crusaders in week nine where the Hurricanes crashed to a 42-14 loss.

That night he lost his composure, perhaps over-eager after sitting on the bench since Perenara stole a march in week three with a hat-trick of tries against the Force.

This time around, Eaton's more focused, a bit bigger and a lot more confident after scoring tries in his last three appearances, including a crucial bonus point effort against the Waratahs in Sydney.

"I'll try and distribute as much as I can. I back my distributing skills, but also to clear the ruck as fast as I can," he said. "If we get quick ball and get the Crusaders on the hop, on the back foot, we can make some inroads into their defence. If you let them settle it's a lot harder. When we've got outsides like we have you want to give them as much ball as possible."

In other words, do the basics well.

Eaton's a capable footballer, but has been prone to the odd errant kick or ill-advised dart into contact during a provincial career that stretches back to 2005. Those foibles have largely disappeared during a string of bright cameos this season and his goal now is to extend that sharpness to the starting role.

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"It is a shift in mindset. When you are coming off the bench you already have a feel of what the game is doing and where it's going," he said. "When you start you have to adjust on the run and get a feel while you are out there. The lungs will probably be hurting, but it's nothing I haven't had before."

Eaton's looking somewhat buffed at the back end of the season and though he jokes it's his metabolism slowing down, he could add a physical presence at about 95kg and alongside big No8 Brad Shields. The combination is raw, having been restricted almost exclusively to the training pitch so far this year, but Eaton said it had an easy feel.

"We're always talking and stuff, so it shouldn't be too much drama. He's a pretty skilled No8 and big so he should provide a bit of protection at the scrum there."

- The Dominion Post

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