Canes in desperate need of answers after loss

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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Seemingly confused and possibly in denial, the Hurricanes are a side searching for answers after their 35-31 loss to the Highlanders.

The score flattered a match that only sparked into life during a frantic final 20 minutes and the margin flattered a Hurricanes side that has now lost four out of five matches.

A losing bonus point won't soften the blow for a side that now heads to Christchurch to play the Crusaders nursing further injuries.

Form flanker Jack Lam's concussion is likely to rule him out, while halfback Chris Smylie, who tore a calf at training on Thursday will be out for two to four weeks.

At least midfielder Tim Bateman might be back, but it's unlikely he can fix all of the ills that plagued the Hurricanes in Dunedin.

Most worryingly, some are recurring, in particular their inability to get out of their half, poor passing, missed tackles, and an ineffective kick-and-chase game.

Most watching last night's match saw the Hurricanes mostly kicking the ball away during an error ridden first half that saw Highlanders' first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga kick six penalties.

They saw halfback TJ Perenara looking uncomfortable trying to play a kicking game and unsure at the back of the ruck, in stark contrast to opposite Aaron Smith. 

Beauden Barrett is world class, a joy to watch, but he too, appeared to struggle until the desperate second-half rally shook the Hurricanes out of their malaise.

Barrett suddenly came to life, scored two brilliant tries to add to prop Ben Franks' effort, and sparked the attack to end with a personal tally of 26 points, while Perenara's running game came to the fore.

Similarly, openside flanker Ardie Savea looked a fish out of water for most of the match. He is clearly a better player than his performance suggested.

Coach Mark Hammett continues to cite poor execution, not game-plan, as the side's Achilles heel.

"I totally disagree with that," he said when asked if the side was simply not playing with enough freedom. "When was the first time we got a scrum or a lineout in their half? When we did we put 15 phases together and we really put them under a lot of stress in their half.

"In the second half the same. We created a hell of a lot of good quick ball. It has nothing to do with inhibition."

Granted, the attack looked a million dollars toward the end, but it was against a Highlanders side down to 14 men after lock Jarrad Hoeata was sinbinned.

Yes, referee Nick Briant was all over the place, but his baffling rulings went both ways and he alone cannot be blamed for Sopoaga kicking seven penalties.

Hammett said poor passing and poor kicking were behind first-half struggles.

"I think it's not so much the structure of the exit this week but the skill-set around putting the pass in front of our ball carriers and putting a good kick in and chasing... that put us under a hell of a lot of pressure in that first half.

"I thought Aaron Smith probably won them the game and our inability to deal with high ball was a big part of that.

"I think the ball went through Beaudy's hands about 50 or 60 times whereas it went through Lima's nine times. Obviously, he [Smith] kicked a lot and really accurately particularly early on.

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 "We got four or five of those deep kicks and we didn't diffuse them. If we had I have no doubt we'd have been on top. We played the better attacking football and dominated the attacking side of it, 90 per cent of it was right but we got those fundamentals wrong."

He felt his side had stuck to its structure and was working back into the match when Hadleigh Parkes threw an intercept pass to wing Patrick Osborne to blow the lead out to 35-12 with 20 minutes to play.

In reality, the alarm bells were at full noise when fullback Ben Smith cut the Hurricanes to shreds to put Phil Burleigh under the posts 10 minutes after halftime.

- The Dominion Post

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