At last a time to Smylie for the Hurricanes

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Chris Smylie
ROSS GIBLIN/ Fairfax NZ
TRY SCORER: Chris Smylie.

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Relief tinged with a touch of anger flowed out of embattled Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett after his week from hell got what must have felt like a heavenly end.

Hammett took a while to emerge from his team's changing rooms after watching them run in nine tries in their thrashing of the Cheetahs.

Perhaps he was busy thanking the rugby gods for breaking the eight-game drought which had threatened to derail his Super Rugby season, and possibly his Hurricanes coaching career.

More likely, Hammett was cooling his heels, making sure he emerged with a degree of calm after a frenetic eight days that had seen plenty of commentators call for his head.

"I suppose one of the things out of last week was we actually had one bad game and we talked about the disappointment and the anger that came with putting in a performance like that at home," he said, when asked what had been different against the Cheetahs.

"But leading into that we'd put up two really good performances in Africa against two really strong South African sides and all of a sudden we had a bad one last week and it was like the blimmin' sky had fallen in."

If Hammett's men had lost last night it may well have, but instead the Hurricanes fronted in front of 8165 fans, many there to honour captain Conrad Smith's 100th Super Rugby match.

The Hurricanes now need to harness the feel-good factor of a rare win and take it south to Dunedin on Friday night.

It was, after all, only the Cheetahs, a side who have at least as many defensive frailties as the Hurricanes continued to show in leaking three tries and 27 points.

But after dropping their opening three matches of the Super Rugby season, the Hurricanes have a starting point after their vaunted attack finally clicked.

There was a four-try bonus point by halftime and, crucially, a classy and confident performance from key first five-eighth Beauden Barrett who finished with a personal tally of 23 points outside outstanding halfback Chris Smylie.

Smith, all class at centre, believes there is now some hard evidence the Hurricanes are on the right track.

"We still had slip-ups during the game but we reacted well. They're a very good attacking side and they got through us a couple of times, but we stemmed the tide and didn't let it get away from us."

Moreover, the Hurricanes simply held onto the ball.

"I don't think it's so much we've had trouble creating quick ball, but we haven't been holding onto the ball," Hammett said. "Even that first half we only had one or two scrums and maybe two lineouts … there wasn't really a lot to play off, it was more counter rugby.

"But the second half we worked hard, ran straight lines and we were up-field in terms of our direction which made it easy for the cleanout."

One win does not turn the ship around, but Hammett has some breathing space and, crucially, his players have a shred of confidence. Barrett produced some moments of magic in scoring two tries, Julian Savea ran freely on the wing, and Ardie Savea and Jack Lam gave food for thought playing as dual opensides in the second half with outstanding Faifili Levave at No 8.

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Second five-eighth remains a defensive issue.

But by the time Hammett had dissected the match, he was smiling. It was the first time since last week's 29-21 loss to the Brumbies.

"It has been a tense week. It was interesting going to a press conference with you guys and I didn't get one rugby question," he said.

"Everyone feels that, not just myself. The team feels that and I thought they were good in how they fronted."

SCOREBOARD

Hurricanes: 60 (Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett 2, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Jeremy Thrush, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith, Alapati Leiua tries, Barrett 5 cons, pen, Marty Banks con)

Cheetahs: 27 (Willie le Roux, Philip van der Walt, Francois Uys tries, Johan Goosen 3 con, 2 pens).

Ht: 29-20.

- Sunday News

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