Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett desperately needs his players to add some substance to his sales pitch when they meet the Highlanders at Westpac Stadium tonight.
With the playoffs out of reach Hammett has spent the past week accentuating the unrealised potential of a squad big on talent, but light on results.
Tonight the Hurricanes need to give the 10,000-odd faithful who still turn up to matches some reason to renew their season tickets.
Six wins from 14 matches and 11th on the Super Rugby ladder doesn't cut it for a squad containing seven current All Blacks.
Their record at home is passable at four wins and two losses, but their current run reads two wins from their last eight matches.
To convince their fanbase they are actually any good, the Hurricanes should be able to put away a Highlanders team that's managed just two wins all year.
Hammett has noted statistical improvements, player development and the bright future of a team only beginning its journey.
What he hasn't said is that big name players have been inconsistent at crucial stages.
Fullback Andre Taylor and lock Jason Eaton aren't playing and midfielder Tim Bateman is injured, but they're not the only Hurricanes not to have hit their 2013 form.
Wing Julian Savea was unstoppable early doors, but his form after being charged with assault has been less impressive.
Influential halves TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett have both struggled with parts of their games at various stages of the season.
Barrett's cause wasn't helped when he was inexplicably moved to fullback after a four-match winning streak in round nine.
Ironically, that match was the high point of the season, a 41-19 thrashing of the Waratahs.
And it was no coincidence that Savea, Barrett and Perenara were the key protagonists that night.
When the trio play their natural games, as they did against the Chiefs last week, they are worth the price of admission.
Throw in the experience of Victor Vito, Conrad Smith, Dane Coles, Ben Franks and Jeremy Thrush, and Hammett's vision takes shape.
Coles is out, but the rest of that group can make a statement of intent over the last two weeks of the season.
Nobody hopes they do more than Hammett and assistant Alama Ieremia. They know 11th place will be difficult to defend when they front the board in a few weeks time.
If the Hurricanes play with width, retain possession and give Perenara, Barrett and Savea plenty of front foot ball they might send their fans away with some hope.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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