Marshall plan at fullback a Canes gamble

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2013
James Marshall
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HAVING A GO: James Marshall is tackled by Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs during a pre-season game earlier this year.

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James Marshall's surprise selection at fullback represents more than just the struggles of Andre Taylor.

Three matches into the season the Hurricanes head to Dunedin still trying to strike a balance between grinding and entertaining.

They were a mix of both before beating the Crusaders and the cold light of day will show loose passes and reckless counter-attacks nearly undid a solid effort up front.

Forwards like Ben Franks, Karl Lowe and Victor Vito will not be impressed at some of the wastage going on out wide this season, and Taylor has been a guilty party.

This is where tossing the No 15 jersey to an astute 24-year-old with an educated kicking game comes in.

Denying Crusaders supremo Dan Carter possession was a good plan, but turning around the Highlanders pack will be paramount at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow.

Taylor got a pep talk from his injured mate Cory Jane yesterday, but won't have needed a coaching lesson.

He might question some of the off-loads, but Taylor knows he's shelled too much ball and has taken a few wrong options.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett wasn't about to put the boot into last year's top try scorer.

"We know Andre can perform some acts of brilliance at times," Hammett said. "It's a long campaign. We know how good Andre is and it's a good chance for him to clear the head. He's on the bench, so he'll get time, but in this case, this week James wears fifteen."

There is the whiff of a gamble to the change.

Apart from a couple of cameos for Taranaki in the national provincial championship last year, Marshall has little top-flight experience at fullback.

"The last game I remember starting there was over in Italy against Ulster, I think," he said of his off-season stint with Aironi in 2010-11. "I've probably only had two or three games where I've actually started there."

But Marshall, a member of the New Zealand sevens team in 2011, can run, and, though last week's 21 minutes against the Crusaders was his Super Rugby debut, he's no rookie.

The Nelson College old-boy has already played five seasons in the NPC, with Tasman and Taranaki, and had a taste of the Heineken Cup and Magners League in Europe.

Hammett will want Marshall to add those experiences as a pivot to a back-three where wings Alapati Leiua and Julian Savea prefer actions to talk.

"You just have to feed the info in to the inside backs so I'll be looking to talk as much as I can about what I can see," Marshall said.

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Meanwhile, a decision on hooker Motu Matu'u's shoulder will be left until later today.

"It's getting better every day so hopefully it improves again and he can take his place," Hammett said.

"To be honest we've got no idea till he does that contact session but in terms of mobility and the ability to throw he's at the stage where he's not sore."

Matu'u has been bracketed in the starting side with Ash Dixon who will start if the former is ruled out. Southland's Jason Rutledge is on standby to come into the reserves.

- The Dominion Post

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