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Hurricanes make hooker crisis call to Rutledge

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2013

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Southland's Jason Rutledge will join the Hurricanes today amid lingering concerns about the state of All Black hooker Dane Coles' ankle.

The Hurricanes' first-choice rakes Coles and Motu Matu'u are under injury clouds after the 29-28 win over the Crusaders.

X-rays yesterday cleared Coles of a break but he is set to have a second look today after limping off Westpac Stadium on Friday in the 42nd minute, in some distress.

Matu'u's shoulder injury appears less serious but the Hurricanes' coaching staff have quickly made contingency plans should the competition's most menacing tackler be ruled out.

Hawke's Bay's Ash Dixon will get the start against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday if the incumbents cannot recover in time.

Dixon and loosehead prop Reggie Goodes, who can also play hooker at a pinch, were both withdrawn from the Hurricanes development team's match against the Crusaders Knights on Saturday afternoon.

And Hammett was quickly on the phone to the New Zealand Rugby Union, organising Rutledge's clearance and flights to Wellington this morning.

"Colsey seems unlikely, Motu's one of those, we shouldn't say 50-50, but we'll see how he gets through his week.

"He'll have to get through contact before he can be considered," Hammett said last night.

"Ash played well throughout the pre-season and Reg is an option. It's a fairly urgent process for us, given it's a Friday game."

Should Southland 35-year-old Rutledge play any part against the Highlanders, it would be an ironic one, considering he was passed over by the southern franchise he has played for 58 times since his debut in 2004.

Whoever gets tossed the No 2 jersey this week, they are unlikely to be in a vastly changed line up.

Hammett was chipper yesterday after reviewing his side's first win of the year and not just because other results seemed to help his cause.

The New Zealand conference points spread contracted, with losses to the Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders, suggesting a tight race lies ahead.

And despite being outscored four tries to two by the Crusaders, a second look convinced Hammett the home team dominated in the key areas.

Most pleasing was an 11-3 penalty count in the Hurricanes' favour, one that ultimately tipped the match their way.

Hammett put it down to a disciplined defence that denied Dan Carter the chance to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

"You can put that down to the discipline of the defensive system.

"Most penalties are not rolling away at the ruck or off side, so I'm happy with that," he said.

"We're not where we want to be defensively yet but the trends from my perspective are good."

Hammett said the loose passes on attack that gifted the Crusaders two of their tries remained an area that needed to improve in Dunedin. "When we held and built, we either got penalty points out of it or we put the Crusaders under extreme pressure," he said.

"We probably need to think a bit more in a test match mentality.

"It's great scoring tries and we want to be a team that does that but I'd rather be a team that wins than scores tries and loses."

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If he's watched the Highlanders loss to the Cheetahs, Hammett's mood would have improved further, considering their frailties, particularly at the breakdown.

The Highlanders appeared to badly miss injured No 8 Nasi Manu in Invercargill and they also have issues at first five-eighth after Lima Sopoaga's unfortunate day, though Colin Slade looked assured in his return match.

- The Dominion Post

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