Hurricanes need to hit target against Crusaders

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2013
Vito
Kevin Stent/ FAIRFAX NZ
IN DOUBT: Victor Vito at training.

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Some testy exchanges in training must provide the catalyst for the real Hurricanes to turn up at Westpac Stadium for tonight's crunch clash with the Crusaders.

Outwardly there has been a wave of positive vibes in the wake of losses to the Blues and Reds.

But by 7.35 tonight the seeds of passionate desperation need to blossom.

Clinical, technical and professional all have their place in the game, but when you are 0-2 it is time to let out some raw passion.

Perhaps that was the difference between the fired-up and fearless Blues and the clueless, but defensively committed Reds.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett has kept a calm demeanour, insistent that his side are playing well despite their results.

Privately he and his leadership group may have reached the point of delivering some stern words, particularly to the backs.

"Certainly from a forward pack's point of view it's going pretty well," Hammett said this week.

"The execution, we haven't been finishing too well.

"Unfortunately two weeks in a row we've played the better footy but been on the wrong side of the ledger."

The Hurricanes backs could point to a muffed scrum, an over-thrown lineout and a poor kickoff reception in Brisbane, but they will know it is time to fire some shots.

Better decision-making and more clinical finish will be at the top of Hammett's wish list.

Halves T J Perenara and Beauden Barrett must erase the kicking errors that have thwarted the Hurricanes momentum at crucial times.

The Crusaders have too much experience and quality up front to capitulate, but outside Dan Carter may be vulnerable out wide.

The Hurricanes backs must avoid a kicking duel with Carter and Dagg, men who rarely lose when it comes to a game of force-back. Better to test inexperienced wings Johnny McNicholl and Tom Marshall rather than tempting Dagg to find his running game.

Territory will be important, but possession will be key.

If the Crusaders are willing to kick, the Hurricanes would be wise not to give it back quickly.

The fewer touches Carter has in the match, the better for the home side.

The more touches Julian Savea, Conrad Smith and Andre Taylor get the better.

Handling and ball security must also improve two-fold.

In defence, the Blues provided a template Hammett would be wise to have studied.

Carter was hassled and hustled at Eden Park, hit late and hard by Charles Piutau.

Forward runners like Corey Flynn and Wyatt Crockett were sat on their backsides by a resolute defensive line.

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Luke Romano's ribs were an early victim of the Blues' ferocity.

Hurricanes' big men such as Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Ben Franks and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen must replicate that intensity around the fringes.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has called for better at the breakdown, though Matt Todd and Kieran Read were superb against the Blues and will likely maintain that standard in Wellington.

The reality is the Crusaders are unlikely to play badly two weeks in a row.

There had been 12,000 tickets sold for the match yesterday.

Those fans haven't forgotten the committed, fearless and attacking-minded Hurricanes of last season.

It is time that side entered the battle. It certainly is time they brought the edge from the training paddock to Westpac Stadium.

If they don't, their season will be in danger of stalling before it has even got up a head of steam.

AT A GLANCE

Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Sky Sport 1: 7.35 tonight

Referee: Andrew Lees (AUS)

TAB odds: Hurricanes $2.35, Crusaders $1.55

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, T J Perenara, Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Karl Lowe, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Ben May, James Broadhurst, Faifili Levave, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Reynold Lee-Lo.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Johnny McNicholl, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Tom Donnelly, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock.

Last six results between the Hurricanes and Crusaders (home team first): 2012: Crusaders 22 Hurricanes 23 2012: Hurricanes 14 Crusaders 42 2011: Crusaders 16 Hurricanes 9 2010: Hurricanes 26 Crusaders 26 2009: Crusaders 24 Hurricanes 30 2008: Crusaders 33 Hurricanes 22 (semifinal)

- The Dominion Post

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