Time to front and deliver for Hurricanes

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014
Beauden Barrett
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
LOOKING FOR A WIN: Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes at training yesterday.

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Talk is cheap, results are what matter.

Those were the sentiments of Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett in the buildup to Super Rugby and the time has come for his side to deliver.

It's only round three, but after losses to the Sharks and Stormers, the Brumbies represent an early crossroads for the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium tonight.

Home fans need to be won over if future pre-sales are to trend up on the 9500 tickets sold at the close of play last night.

More importantly, Hammett's squad would gain a shot of confidence that they are on the right path after a long, hard pre-season that's so far yielded one point.

First five-eighth Beauden Barrett believes that's not an accurate reflection of how the squad is tracking.

"I think we're in good shape. We should have won against the Stormers but we're pretty positive about what we're doing," he said.

"It's about preparing better and we are doing that this year. We are making the most of our time, having more clarity sessions and it's helping, especially from a defensive perspective.

"We've been building, we've got the weekly structure how we want it . . . we just need the results to show all the hard work we've done off the field."

There are signs the defence will be more robust this year, but the attack has yet to fire, partly due to an inconsistent scrum.

Barrett said the effect of the new scrum laws had caught most teams on the hop and disrupted well laid plans to launch off the set piece.

"The scrum is an issue across the board. It's not just us," he said. "It puts the No 8 under pressure a lot more and trying to get those eight-nine plays is a lot harder. Trying to hook the ball is tougher too with the refs watching the crooked put-ins.

"It's a more even contest, but there's heaps to think about at scrum time, so it might be a case of simplifying launches to get the boys into the game."

Things haven't been helped by the absence of injured No 8s Victor Vito and Brad Shields, although Blade Thomson showed his maturity in some difficult situations.

Lineouts may well be a more viable attacking platform with the Hurricanes second only to the Sharks with a 94 per cent success rate so far.

James Marshall's selection at fullback is a bid to provide a second pivot option, but such grand plans will mean little unless ball retention improves drastically on the 14 turnovers in Cape Town.

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The absence of injured Brumbies openside David Pocock is a major boost to the Hurricanes chances of creating continuity and with the Brumbies' tackling at a lowly 81 per cent during their opening two matches, opportunity knocks.

Last year's beaten finalists do not come with any great mystery in attack. They hit the midfield hard through centres Tevita Kuridrani and Andrew Smith, then send waves of big forwards like Ben Mowen and lock Scott Fardy around the corner.

Pocock's absence sees Jarrad Butler move to No 7 and Mowen shifted to No 8 with Leon Power coming in at lock.

Blindside Faifili Levave's absence is a blow to the Hurricanes close in defence and Adam Hill faces a big test in his first Super Rugby start.

If the Brumbies get a roll, they will stretch the defence then let fullback Jesse Mogg, and wings Robbie Coleman and Henry Speight finish out wide.

Mogg can be frail in defence and testing him under the high ball and sending wing Julian Savea up to chase wouldn't be a bad option early on.

The Brumbies also kick a lot, particularly from halfback where Nic White can be an effective tactician on his day and Cory Jane and Savea will have plenty of chance to counter.

History suggests it's a tall order. The Hurricanes have lost the last three matches between the sides with their last win coming in Canberra in 2010.

- Wellington

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