Tim Bateman keen to press All Blacks claims
Tim Bateman doesn't much care which rugby league club Sonny Bill Williams plays for next season because he has a more pressing interest in New Zealand rugby's most talked about player.
The Hurricanes second five-eighth will be charged with marking Williams in Friday night's decisive Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium.
And while he won't have the size or profile of his opponent, Bateman will be just as motivated both to win the match, and to put his hand up for a position that's suddenly looking a tad thin.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't aware of the opportunity there is through him leaving," the 25-year-old said yesterday.
"If I play to the way I know I can, I don't see any reason I can't push for that spot."
Williams' departure ends his head-to-head battle for the All Blacks No12 test jersey with Ma'a Nonu, but will also ignite debate about who is the best backup.
Tamati Ellison deserves first crack and Dan Carter is an option, depending on your perspective.
But with seven tests from August to October, contingency plans to find alternative specialists are likely and Bateman and Ryan Crotty are possibly the next cabs off the rank.
"There's been a wee bit of feedback from Fozzie [Ian Foster] through Alama [Ieremia] on what I'm doing well, what I need to work on and where I sit, which is positive knowing you are there or thereabouts," Bateman said.
"But it's about putting good performances out there. I think I've done reasonably well at certain stages without being as consistent as I'd wanted to be and probably not [providing] the impact I'd like at certain stages.
"So this is a huge game. Marking Sonny, it's a huge game for the Hurricanes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't see it as a big opportunity for me as well as the team this weekend."
The Hurricanes' simple task on Friday is to win, try to get a four-try bonus point, then sit back and hope things don't go well for one or more of the Sharks, Bulls, Crusaders or Reds.
Bateman's task is to block out the media blitz that surrounds his opposite number, although he doesn't buy into the hype about individuals making or breaking a match.
"I'm not playing him down or anything because I think he's a great player, but I think often all the talk that goes along with it is overdone," Bateman said.
"The weekend just done sort of showed that against the Crusaders. You didn't see him a lot through the game, the Crusaders' set piece nullified him a little as well, and he made a couple of mistakes at the end of the night.
"I'm not taking anything away, I think he's a great player, but it's only one player and I enjoy playing against guys like that."
The Hurricanes are likely to be at full strength for the match, with wing Cory Jane and flanker Victor Vito both set to be named in the starting side tomorrow morning.
The only injury concern is halfback Chris Eaton (hamstring). Bay of Plenty's Jamie Nutbrown joined the squad yesterday as a possible backup for Frae Wilson.
Meanwhile, 16,000 tickets have been sold for the match, with the final figure expected to top the 22,000 who watched the Hurricanes play the Crusaders in April, the biggest home crowd of the season.
The Dominion Post