Injury, reshuffle put acid on 'Canes to front
If the intention was to erase complacency, the Hurricanes have done a decent job ahead of tonight's match against the Force.
The withdrawal last night of All Blacks hooker Dane Coles with a fractured right eye-socket added only to the raft of comings and goings in the Hurricanes this week.
Coles will be out of all rugby for up to six weeks after suffering the injury in training on Wednesday and has been replaced by Motu Matu'u.
Even before the front row disruption, coach Mark Hammett had been set to follow New Zealand's Super Rugby trend of mixing and matching his combinations.
Coles' withdrawal actually decreases the changes to the starting team by one, to five from the side which last ran on to Westpac Stadium, only a fortnight ago.
The side that ran up 44 points against the Waratahs to cap a four-match winning streak has been dismantled, rebuilt and re-invented for what is clearly seen as a winnable match against the Force.
Openside Ardie Savea is in a box of cotton wool, halfback T J Perenara on the bench and senior lock Jason Eaton in an easy chair. Prop Ben May's elbow and Victor Vito's calf are being iced for bigger assignments and pivot Beauden Barrett remains at fullback.
And though the Hurricanes should still get the job done, such tinkering is not without risk. Combinations and rhythm can be compromised.
Hammett is confident there will be no repeat of last season's damaging capitulation against the Cheetahs. A year on, his squad is deeper and he is backing a side with plenty of experience to restore momentum after last Saturday's loss to the Blues.
The return of openside Jack Lam warrants excitement, while halfback Chris Smylie has looked sharp since the pre-season.
Lam is a no-holds-barred player, bigger this season at 106kg, a fearsome defender and an effective ball carrier whose reputation deservedly grew last year.
The Hurricanes are blessed with loose forwards and lose little between several combinations. Lam, Faifili Levave and Brad Shields will have been told to be more effective physically this week, after being out-hustled at Eden Park.
Hammett will demand an armchair ride for Smylie and, if they viewed the Force's gutsy 16-14 win over the Crusaders, they will command a more direct attack.
The Force can't be written off, buoyed by wins over the Crusaders and Reds and a string of close losses. But outside halfback Alby Mathewson and first five-eighth Sam Norton Knight, there are limitations in attack.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs play the Waratahs in Sydney tonight.
The Dominion Post