It's last chance for Hammett's struggling Canes
Here we go again. Kick off can't come soon enough for the Hurricanes after the toughest eight days of embattled coach Mark Hammett's tenure.
Beating the Cheetahs at Westpac Stadium today won't fix all of Hammett's problems, but he would at least have a shred of evidence to take to a jury that will find him guilty on all counts if the team's losing streak extends to a ninth straight match.
Talk of cultural shifts and detailed plans has grown tired. The Hurricanes need some passion and emotion, and if skipper Conrad Smith's 100th Super Rugby match does not bring those out then the season is lost.
A Monday morning honesty session aired the dirty laundry from the 29-21 loss to the Brumbies and probably the frustrations of the opening three weeks of the team's not-so-super start to the season.
''I said to the group this week that I don't give a stuff how we prepare if we are going to have performances like that, it's actually more important what we do on the weekend,'' Hammett said.
The 9000 who had bought tickets by yesterday afternoon will argue the focus should always have been more about match-day than the preparation.
There is no lack of effort. That's obvious in watching the side train and in sentiments of senior players.
''People can say 'go back to the old ways', but have we won a championship?'' wing Julian Savea said with a degree of exasperation when asked if the side had become too structured.
''We're trying to do something different. I can tell you the environment right now is a hell of a lot more professional [than before], the boys are working hard and getting the detail right.
''This team is eager to learn and that's why it hurt us so much last week because you can see the boys putting in the effort every week, every day and it's just not coming out on the field.''
But perhaps that's the Hurricanes' problem. Maybe in trying so hard to nail the detail around training and preparation the players have cluttered their ability to simply express their talents.
Savea believes the the season can turn around simply by the players holding on to the ball and taking better options.
Hammett has brought in halfback Chris Smylie in an effort to get a quicker clearance from the ruck and he will no doubt be under orders to keep the ball in hand.
Hurricanes prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen accurately summed up the visitors as ''unorthodox''.
Muscle-bound men such as hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss hint at a typical South African side, but coach Naka Drotske's men don't die wondering.
They have an outstanding loose forward in Lappies Labuschagne, a livewire halfback in Sarel Pretorius and genuine pace in wings Cornal Hendricks and Raymond Rhule.
They score points in bunches, and two years ago at Westpac Stadium came back from 32-11 down after half an hour to ruin the Hurricanes' season with a 47-38 win.
But the Cheetahs' flair has a flipside.
The addition of Ardie Savea at openside flanker should provide some spark to an attack that should be primed to run off any turnover ball, while blindside Faifili Levave's return will add some much needed sting to a defence that was porous last weekend.
More than anything, the Hurricanes need to play as though both their season and their coach's job depend on it.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
TV: Sky Sport 1, 4.35pm, tomorrow
Referee: Angus Gardner (AUS)
TAB odds: Hurricanes $1.40, Cheetahs $2.75
Hurricanes: James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Chris Smylie, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Chris Eves, John Schwalger, James Broadhurst, Jack Lam, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Marty Banks.
Cheetahs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Johann Sadie, Francois Venter, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo, Francois Uys, Lodewyk de Jager, Maks van Dyk, Adriaan Strauss (c), Caylib Ooshuizen. Reserves: Ryno Barnes, Trevor Nyakane, Rossouw de Klerk, Andries Ferreira, Jean Cook, Shaun Venter, Elgar Watts, Hennie Daniller.
The Dominion Post