Hurricanes are on the up as key players return

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2014
Victor Vito
Photosport
A STAR RETURNETH: All Black Victor Vito will be in line for selection for the Hurricanes against the Bulls in Napier alongside fellow returnees Brad Shields and Reggie Goodes.

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Mark Hammett's week just got even better.

After beating the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Hurricanes coach has now confirmed loose forwards Victor Vito, Brad Shields and prop Reggie Goodes will all be fit and available to play the Bulls in Napier on Saturday.

The power-packed trio have been out for the opening five matches, and Hammett will be particularly tempted to pitch Vito and Shields, both back from knee injuries, back into action.

With wing Cory Jane also expected to have recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of the Crusaders match and Tim Bateman in doubt with a sore shoulder the Hurricanes have a number of selection dilemmas.

Hammett said that was especially true in the loose forwards where he had to weigh the impact of Vito and Shields with the recent form of the incumbents.

"We've had Faifili [Levave] in form and Jack [Lam] playing out of his skin and Blade Thomson's been playing blimmin' well too. There will be some selection headaches, but they're good ones," he said.

"One of the question marks around that will be is it worth bringing some freshness in after seven weeks on the trot or do we go with what we've got, those are the selection discussions we'll have.

"Victor and Brad are guys who are very game ready and skilful. They're not the types of players who need a lot of football under their belts."

Bateman showed how modern players can perform to a high level without a lot of game time during the thrilling 29-26 win over the Crusaders, a result that has lifted the Hurricanes to third in the New Zealand Conference.

Hammett said the second five-eighth would leave a significant gap if he is ruled out and hinted match-winning wing Alapati Leiua could get shoulder tapped to wear the problematic No 12 jersey in Napier.

"Timmy Bateman hurt his shoulder in about the 26th minute. He was able to play on but he's still quite sore. He could be doubtful for Saturday I'd say.

"It would be [a loss]. I thought he was exceptional last week around his organisation and being another leader and a companion for Conrad [Smith] from a decision-making perspective.

"If he's out, Hadleigh [Parkes] is one of our options, but Alapati playing very well and if CJ [Jane] is available then he [Leiua] could [fit in there] ... one of his strengths is he's a great distributor and we know he's pretty ferocious defensively, but we'll have to work out what's best for the group."

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The other injury concern is prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, who faces concussion tests this week after leaving the field in Christchurch with a head knock. If he is not passed fit Goodes would come into the squad.

Hammett said nobody was getting carried away after the side's win, his third during his tenure over the Crusaders.

"For me when you have a scoreline like that, 29-26, I think we have to ask as coaches if we'd lost that game what areas would we be looking really hard at?

"We will ask what were the key moments that could have lost the game for us. That's where we need to go because the fact is we are four and two. There's nothing to get overly excited about apart from the fact we put an 80 minute performance together after a lot of pressure during the week."

- The Dominion Post

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