The Hurricane's Mr Loyal deserves a break

Last updated 16:15 09/03/2014
Conrad Smith
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CENTRE TARGET: Hurricanes centre Conrad Smith (right) tackles the Sharks' SP Marais during their Super Rugby match in Durban, won by the Sharks 27-9.

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The Hurricanes couldn't pick a better occasion to stop the rot than next weekend.

By his high standards, Conrad Smith hasn't been in vintage form during his side's opening three losses. Handling errors and defensive lapses need addressing.

His 100th Super Rugby appearance, though, could be the tonic he and the Hurricanes need to apply the paddles to their flatlining campaign.

Playing the emotion card can't hurt. Smith has given his heart and soul, not just to the franchise, but to Wellington rugby in general. He's a loyal member of the Old Boys University club, where he often helps out by coaching and he has been a constant presence at Hurricanes HQ.

It's often hard not to feel for Smith, who has carried the added burden of captaincy since 2012, when he fronts post-match interviews.

Being a spokesman for an inconsistent, underachieving team is no fun.

Friday night was no different. For good reason, Smith cut a dejected figure after the deflating loss to the Brumbies.

All the more reason, it seems, for his team-mates to produce a rare performance they can be proud of against the struggling Cheetahs, who are in similar trouble with a 1-3 record.

"We can be a good side, but I don't want it to be too late in the year before we start showing that," he said.

Smith made his debut alongside Tana Umaga, and has since seen all five Hurricanes centurions come and go. Fellow All Blacks Umaga, Ma'a Nonu, Neemia Tialata, Rodney So'olialo and Andrew Hore are the others to reach the coveted milestone .

When it comes to loyalty, Smith probably leads the way.

"Maybe it was the way I was brought up. I've never changed clubs. I've never changed franchises or provinces," he said. "I've had some highs and lows but I wouldn't change it for the world. I love this team. To bring up 100 games, it will be something pretty special."

An early 4.35pm kick-off on Saturday should ensure a better turnout than the underwhelming 8096 crowd that witnessed Friday's backward step. But at present the Hurricanes are hard to sell. Recording their first competition win in roughly 10 months may go some way to restoring faith. "Losing three games is never a good start," wing Cory Jane said. "The boys are certainly down, but tomorrow is a new day.

"It will be a huge occasion for us and Conrad. He's a big part of Wellington as a whole.

"To get 100 games it will be special for him. It's just for the Hurricanes, too.

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The Hurricanes would do well to review the last 10 minutes against the Brumbies.

Only then, with the game out of reach and weight lifted from their shoulders, did they play with any freedom, imagination or spark.

Replicate that brief period, significantly downgrade the 23 turnovers, start livewire utility Alapati Leiua at second five-eighth to shore up the problematic position and, for once, Smith may get to smile.

- Sunday Star Times

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