One shellacking does not a season make, so there was more cautious optimism than bullish bravado at yesterday's Hurricanes training.
Still last of the five New Zealand Super Rugby teams, the Hurricanes face their compatriots for the first time this season on Friday when they tackle the Highlanders in Dunedin. That's followed by the Crusaders in Christchurch a week later, by which time we'll know if the Hurricanes have boldly turned the corner, or just peeked anxiously around it.
Saturday's nine-try, 60-point romp against the now bottom-placed Cheetahs released a pressure valve on coach Mark Hammett and his team that built to near unbearable levels.
Lock Jeremy Thrush, one of the team's senior men, said the result was vital to prove they were doing the right thing at training. He described the team as angry and upset at their first three defeats; two of which are now leaders of their respective conferences (Sharks and Brumbies).
"A team goes well when the senior guys lead and have the voice and everyone else follows. We trained like that last week, letting us take a bit more ownership on the training paddock then let the other guys follow," Thrush said.
"That showed on the weekend, Beaudy [Barrett] took control of the game, and senior players in the forward pack and Snakey [Conrad Smith], we just make sure we own it and have the voice then everyone has a bit more confidence."
With multiple phases, go-forward ball and a bit of patience, halves combination Chris Smylie and Barrett carved up. The team remembered what it was like to relax and enjoy themselves on the field, said Thrush who dotted down himself.
Gaps won't yawn open as far on Friday under the Dunedin roof. Thrush described all their New Zealand derbies as brutal affairs and said defence, which leaked at times last Saturday, was the big focus.
"The [Highlanders] like to throw a few into the rucks and slow the ball down. They pride themselves on turnovers at ruck time. It's different from the Cheetahs who spread out and there wasn't so much to hit at the rucks.
"We'll show them respect but we need to keep focusing on what we do and demand that we get our roles right and turn up again for another good performance."
Assistant coach Alama Ieremia agreed some of their defence was patchy against the Cheetahs as they only led by nine at halftime. Ieremia felt that was addressed at the break, after which the visitors only scored seven points, and defence would continue to be honed this week.
Ieremia said it was simple formula to remedy some of their previous issues.
"The danger of last week was to focus on all the other stuff. In terms of fixing problems it was pretty simple, we just had to hold onto the ball and build some phases. We had a constant supply of ball. The players really took it on themselves during the week to drive that part of the game."
- The Dominion Post
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