If you believe in omens, here is a useful one: this time a year ago the Hurricanes emerged from June's international window, went to Christchurch and beat the Crusaders 23-22.
Few people fancied them to do it but their victory was thoroughly deserved and came on the back of two tries by captain Conrad Smith.
Tomorrow they meet the Chiefs in Hamilton. Again, there is little to suggest the Hurricanes can head away and beat a more fancied Super Rugby rival - except the June window.
As he was 12 months ago, Smith is not feeling in great shape. Three successive tests against France have left him rather weary and he admitted yesterday he was in no state to be playing rugby.
By tomorrow he should be and, if he is, it will be because of the enthusiasm of those Hurricanes team-mates who have not been away on international duty.
"They get me up," Smith said after training yesterday. "I remember last year, coming back after three weeks away, the excitement they had before the Crusaders last year carried us guys that had been away. They'd done all the game planning and things like that, and they were raring to go."
Sporting the remnants of a shiner over his left eye, Smith said the Chiefs remained New Zealand's Super Rugby standard bearers and it would take more than enthusiasm to beat them at Waikato Stadium. "They're just a quality side and they deserve to be where they are. It's no secret they probably work harder than most around the country, in terms of being a well-coached and a very well-disciplined side, so it will make for a great contest. I actually enjoy playing teams like that because you know what you're going to get."
Smith and his fellow All Blacks - Ben Franks, Dane Coles, Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea - all start tomorrow.
Thrush and Barrett looked extremely energetic at training yesterday.
Most of the squad did, in fact, after coach Mark Hammett told his non-internationals they had to create a lively environment for the All Blacks to come back to. They have also had to help him build tomorrow's game plan.
Errors cost the Hurricanes dearly in the first meeting between the two teams this season and Hammett does not want to see the same ones again.
"We have to really focus on ball security, maintaining pressure for long periods of time and our kicking game's got to be spot on," Hammett said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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