No 9 Chris Smylie provides hope for Canes
Chris Smylie has become the Hurricanes unlikely symbol of hope.
The little halfback provided the spark of passion, desperation, and direction his team craved during their bonus point 60-27 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
It has eased some pressure on coach Mark Hammett, but doesn't change the fact the Hurricanes remain at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference with just one win.
Nor does it alter the importance of beating the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday, that the one-on-one defence still needs to improve.
What has changed is the mindset of a changing room that seems to have realised they had become cautious to the point of strangling their natural abilities.
Smylie speaks with the same clarity he showed during a match that was as much a personal turning point as a team one for the 31-year-old journeyman.
"Rugby's simple," he said. "It's gain-line, its play to the width, that's what we're good at ... As long as we hold the ball we'll be OK, that's Hurricanes football, it's simple, it's effective.
"Moving forward we just have to put the fear of [our attack] into the opposition. Previous weeks we've been kicking the ball away, doing silly grubbers, things like that, letting teams off the hook.
"Today [Saturday] we had a focus on holding the ball, old Canes style, that's the way we want to play heading into these next few games."
The Hurricanes have talked of the importance of playing with caution, but seemingly struggled to match the conviction of their words to their actions.
It's not that they abandoned structures against the Cheetahs, but clearly the players asked for, and were granted, more licence to chance their arm and indecision was slowly, but surely replaced by confidence as the Hurricanes ran in nine tries.
"Everyone's been under a lot of pressure, especially the coaches," Smylie said. "But the players feel it too. There's a core group of us who have been here for three years under Hammett and we just haven't produced.
"It hasn't been the coaching. We haven't been executing their game plans. Today we went out with the attitude of holding the ball and once we started scoring a few tries it felt like a weight came off our shoulders.
"You could see the smiles on the boys faces when we were scoring tries, you could see the hugs and the jumping up and down."
Such scenes had all but disappeared during an eight-match losing run that reached critical point during last week's 29-21 loss to the Brumbies.
Something had to change.
Hammett and assistant coach Alama Ieremia have made some puzzling selections and Smylie's elevation to the starting XV ahead of TJ Perenara raised further eyebrows.
It proved the right one as Smylie delivered crisp clean ball to first five-eighth Beauden Barrett and ran with confidence to score a try that saw the No 9's emotions overflow.
"To finally get a try and starting. I've been around a long time [eight years], been through a lot of injuries, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of riding the pine ... I just pointed up and thanked God because I'm a religious person and I just praised him for the occasion."
The Hurricanes may still need some divine intervention to save their season, but Barrett said lips had not dropped despite the public reaction to their poor start.
"I think its a big relief for everyone, but we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves after what happened the first three weeks," he said.
"We've bought into what we're doing. The plan hasn't worked, but it's good to see it finally working now. The belief in this team's definitely there ... to win a couple of games before the bye."
They'll have to do it without the injured quartet of Victor Vito, Brad Shields, Tim Bateman and Reggie Goodes who will not be available for the next match.
The Dominion Post