Hurricanes' hopes against Bulls rest on backs

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2013
Julian Savea
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
BACK IN THE FOLD: Hurricanes and All Black wing Julian Savea will start against the Bulls.

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Stopping the big Bulls pack may be the publicly stated mission, but the return of Julian Savea and a change at second five-eighth suggest the Hurricanes have more positive intentions in Pretoria.

Coach Mark Hammett has made three changes to the side that battered away against the Stormers last week with little reward.

Savea has reclaimed his place on the wing with Matt Proctor returning to Wellington for personal reasons, while Tusi Pisi replaces Tim Bateman in the midfield.

Savea's return was predictable after he stood himself down for a week after an appearance in court on an assault charge. But Pisi's injection says more about where the Hurricanes need to improve on Sunday morning if they are to achieve their first win at Loftus Versfeld since 2008.

Tim Bateman hasn't had the impact he did last year and a lack of penetration at second five-eighth has meant the Hurricanes have struggled to get over the gain line from set piece.

If the Hurricanes pack can match their big Bulls opposites on their home ground, they'll be looking to the backs to make the most of their attacking opportunities.

Hammett conceded Pisi's selection was in part due to form, but defended Bateman, who had churned through nine straight matches and would benefit from taking a step back and looking at his own game.

The Hurricanes have eased into their South African tour with golf rather than hard grind as part of their early preparations.

But as the week progresses they will have to confront the prospect of playing at one of the toughest venues in world rugby.

Hammett is doing his best to take that intimidation factor out of his younger player's minds.

"I try not to reflect too much on last year, but if we took one lesson it was that a lot of this group hadn't played in certain places . . . they weren't phased, they just got out there and played. That's what I'd like to think they'll do this week."

That includes hooker Ash Dixon who makes his first start of the season in place of the injured Motu Matu'u.

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