Bateman joins casualty ward, Smith to start

RETURNING: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith will start at centre against the Crusaders in Levin on Friday.
RETURNING: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith will start at centre against the Crusaders in Levin on Friday.

Key midfielder Tim Bateman is the latest Hurricanes casualty to be struck down the eve of the Super Rugby season.

The second five-eighth was carried off Porirua Park yesterday with knee injury that will almost certainly rule him out of the Hurricanes season opening trip to South Africa.

The initial prognosis was Bateman had suffered a grade one medial collateral ligament to his right knee and would be out for 2-4 weeks.

That's bad news for a side now missing loose forward Brad Shields (knee), wing Matt Proctor (ankle) and prop Reggie Goodes (toe) before a shot's been fired in anger.

Hadleigh Parkes was the next cab off the midfield rank at training and finished yesterday's session at second five-eighth alongside returning captain Conrad Smith.

But the late midfield reshuffle wasn't the only surprise when Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett named his side to play the Crusaders in Levin on Friday.

With Shields out and Faifili Levave only just back from injury, Wellington wider training group flanker Adam Hill has forced his way into the side at blindside.

"We have a group who have an opportunity to start and stake a claim for the first game [against the Sharks in Durban], so it is a really important match," Hammett said of the Crusaders match. "They have the opportunity [to nail a starting position].

"Hilly has been a big part of the preseason and done a lot of the work and I suppose that's an example where for him and Faifili it's a really important game for the two of them."

The same applied at openside where Jack Lam has been given the nod against the Crusaders ahead of Ardie Savea.

"Ardie has had a couple of cracks so we want to give Jack a start there. It's one of those positions that hasn't been finalised to my mind," Hammett said.

Lock appears to be another hotly contested position with Mark Abbott getting the nod alongside Jeremy Thrush and James Broadhurst on the reserves.

But Hammett said less could be read into the selection of Alapati Leiua on the wing ahead of All Black Julian Savea who is in the reserves.

"From Jules perspective Alapati [Leiua] has come back from an [hamstring] injury and we feel it's important he starts rather than comes on at halftime, so he can get into that mode."

The backline is an exciting one with TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett in the halves, Cory Jane on the right wing and Marty Banks at fullback.

In his first match after a four month sabbatical, Smith said he'd be happy to get through 40 minutes.

Though he went into last year's competition without playing a preseason match, he had always planned to have a run in Levin.

Smith believed the preseason matches were valuable for younger players, but were of limited benefit for those nearer the other end of their career.

"I think if you've played for 10 years you probably only need one game," he said. "For the young guys who have been training since November and they're in their first or second year of Super Rugby then three preseason games is not even enough.

"They will probably still take four or five games of the regular season to get a feel for it, so it becomes a pretty individual thing. I know I'd be worse off if I played three games ... I think that's how most of the [older] guys approach it now."

Meanwhile, the Crusaders have also named a strong side for the match with first five eighth Colin Slade among nine current or former All Blacks in the starting side and Richie McCaw one of five in the reserves.

The Dominion Post