Hurricanes rolled, first-half pleases Hammett

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014
Ben Franks
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
CAUGHT FROM BEHIND: Hurricanes prop Ben Franks tries to avoid the tackle of Crusaders counterpart Wyatt Crockett during their Super Rugby trial match in Levin.

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It's a good thing Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett always has the glass half full.

It will allow him to focus on the first half of the Hurricanes final pre-season match against the Crusaders in Levin yesterday as the side boards its flight for South Africa today.

A squad of 27 will fly out for Durban and close to the toughest possible start to Super Rugby against the Sharks before heading to Cape Town to play the Stormers.

After a fortnight that saw flankers Brad Shields, Victor Vito, centre Tim Bateman, and wing Matt Proctor join prop Reggie Goodes on the injury list, the Hurricanes are in a tenuous situation.

The result is rookies such as centre Cardiff Vaega, loosie Adam Hill, and props Chris Eves and Brendon Edmonds will be pitched in the deep end.

Two years after setting Super Rugby alight, outside back Andre Taylor finds himself on the outer with Marty Banks the preferred fullback and James Marshall back from hip surgery to provide cover.

The Hurricanes can ill afford further injuries, a reality that was rammed home in Levin.

For the opening 40 minutes the first stringers looked like title contenders to lead 15-14, but the second-half side struggled as the score ballooned out to a 40-15 loss.

But back to that half full glass.

The Hurricanes looked a class outfit from the moment Beauden Barrett intercepted a pass to race 70 metres for the first try.

There were some big hits from Jack Lam, direction and patience from a particularly physical Barrett, stand out performances from lock Mark Abbott and second five-eighth Hadleigh Parkes and a tighthead when the scrum shunted the Crusaders off their own ball.

"I was really pleased with that first group, particularly around our set piece," Hammett said after a match played in front of about 5000. "The scrum and lineout were working really well. Its early days, but it was nice to get a tighthead there and we created a lot of pressure from our defence."

Hammett's right. The Hurricanes did dominate the opening exchanges, something Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder readily acknowledged.

"These games aren't easy and the Hurricanes played very well early. We probably got sat on our arses at the start and had to work our way back."

In fact, Blackadder threw Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock and Andy Ellis into the fray at the same point Hammett pulled most of his starting side off the park. However, loose forward Faifili Levave and wing Julian Savea aside, the second half was quite a different story for the Hurricanes as their set piece in particular unravelled under pressure.

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AT A GLANCE

Hurricanes squad of 27 to travel to South Africa: Backs: Marty Banks, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith, Cardiff Vaega, Hadleigh Parkes, Beauden Barrett, James Marshall, TJ Perenara, Chris Smylie. Forwards: Blade Thomson, Faifili Levave, Adam Hill, Ardie Savea, Jack Lam, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, Mark Abbott, James Broadhurst, Chris Eves, Brendon Edmonds, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Ben Franks, John Schwalger, Dane Coles, Motu Matu'u. Staying put: Andre Taylor, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Billy Guyton, Callum Gibbins, Ash Dixon. Injured: Tim Bateman, Brad Shields, Victor Vito, Matt Proctor, Reggie Goodes

- © Fairfax NZ News

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