Fast and furious duo to start for Hurricanes
The fast and the furious wouldn't be a bad description for the Hurricanes new loose forward duo of Ardie Savea and Jack Lam.
It has taken four Super Rugby matches and an injury to Blade Thomson, but the Hurricanes two' specialist opensides will finally start together against the Highlanders in Dunedin tomorrow night.
Thomson's sore neck has opened the way for Faifili Levave to shift to No 8 with Lam starting in the No 6 jersey and Savea remaining at No 7.
Many will argue it's not before time, and Lam appears to be a fan after several successful trial runs alongside his young team-mate.
"I'm very excited to play left and right with Ardie. We've been trying it out for the last few weeks, but I'm quite excited to do it from the start," the Bristol-bound Samoan international said. "I get a lot of confidence playing alongside Ardie and Fafa [Faifili]. We played a couple of games last year together in the development team and it was a lot of fun."
Playing dual opensides hasn't always come up trumps in Super Rugby. The Highlanders' experiment of playing John Hardie and Shane Christie in tandem flopped during their 31-29 loss to the Force.
But Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett was confident that wouldn't happen with Lam, who he said was not in the traditional mould of an openside.
Despite winning a bunch of turnovers so far this season, Lam isn't a classic fetcher as much as a player who, like Levave, thrives on the physical exchanges.
That work frees Savea up to use his outright pace in the open – during the second half of Saturday's 60-27 win over the Cheetahs it brought out the youngster's best.
The fact the loose forwards each had experience in all three roles mean they knew when to shift responsibilities during the match, Lam said.
"That helps with positioning and stuff. We're there to help each other out. As a trio we've been working hard on trying to contribute to the team and bringing that physicality is what we're trying to use to lift the boys."
A toe injury to fullback James Marshall and a long-planned family wedding for lock Jeremy Thrush has forced Hammett to make two further changes, while a rolled ankle has ruled wing Cory Jane out for the second week in a row.
Marty Banks starts at fullback with James Broadhurst in the second row, while hooker Ash Dixon, lock Mark Abbott, loosie Adam Hill and outside back Andre Taylor come on to a reshuffled bench.
Hammett expects the Hurricanes' first New Zealand conference match to be of a higher intensity than the opening four matches, three of which have been against South African sides.
"It's going to be different in terms of technical requirements and different in terms of size. We know the Highlanders are technically very good, and that allows them to be so physical whereas the Africans are more just horsepower and size."
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has tried to add some beef to his pack with the return from a rib injury of lock Brad Thorn, a first start of the season for big tighthead prop Ma'afu Fia and an unfamiliar blindside role for regular No 8 Elliot Dixon at the expense of Hardie.
There are a further two changes in the backs with wing Patrick Osborne back from an ankle injury and Phil Burleigh coming in at second five-eighth at the expense of Shaun Treeby.
Hurricanes: Marty Banks, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Chris Smylie, Faifili Levave, Ardie Savea, Jack Lam, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Chris Eves, John Schwalger, Mark Abbott, Adam Hill, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Andre Taylor.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Phil Burleigh, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Nasi Manu (co-captain), Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Brad Thorn, Ma'afu Fia, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves; Ged Robinson, Matias Diaz, Chris King, Jarrad Hoeata, TJ Ioane, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Shaun Treeby.
The Dominion Post