Hurricanes squad seek consistency in Napier

FRUSTRATING STUFF: Hurricanes players TJ Perenara, Conrad Smith and Ardie Savea show even if you win a match, as they did here against the Crusaders, imperfect play will still make you angry.
FRUSTRATING STUFF: Hurricanes players TJ Perenara, Conrad Smith and Ardie Savea show even if you win a match, as they did here against the Crusaders, imperfect play will still make you angry.

What goes up must come down has been an all-too-common theme for the Hurricanes these past three years.

And so to Napier where coach Mark Hammett's side desperately needs to beat the Bulls if the Hurricanes are to provide any further hope they are any different in 2014 than they were in 2011.

The Hurricanes have had sporadic bursts of panache but haven't yet displayed the consistency vital to a team with hopes of reaching the playoffs.

During Hammett's tenure, big wins have too often been followed by a dull thud.

Each time the Hurricanes have moved toward the head of the field, they have taken their foot off the pedal.

Only three weeks ag,o the Hammercanes put nine tries and 60 points on the Cheetahs only to lose their compass during a clueless and costly first quarter in Dunedin six days later.

Last year, an encouraging 41-29 demolition of the Waratahs topped a four match winning streak but was erased a week later during a bumbling 28-6 drubbing by the Blues at Eden Park.

Two years ago, the false dawns included big wins over the Force and Sharks, followed by losses to the Highlanders and Crusaders.

There is plenty to be gained at McLean Park tonight. A bonus point win puts the Hurricanes back into the race for the New Zealand Conference.

On the evidence of their last match, a passionate 29-26 away win over the Crusaders, such lofty heights are achievable.

The Bulls provide a true gauge. All three of their wins this season have come in Pretoria but there are signs the blue machine is cranking into gear after a slow start to the season.

Last time they visited Napier, they came away with a 26-14 win that left then-Hurricanes midfielder Ma'a Nonu lamenting the lowest point in his rugby career.

It was a sign of things to come and, after a turbulent three years, Hammett finds himself back in the Hawke's Bay running out of wriggle room.

Now, as then, there is plenty to like about the Hurricanes chances. Victor Vito's return provides crucial experience and physicality.

It's a big match for the No 8 and he knows it. Sitting out the opening six weeks with a knee injury doing cardio has kept him fit but done nothing for his hopes of an All Blacks recall.

''I had my moments during the rehab getting in the red mist about not playing,'' he said.

''You have your moments but it is [the injury] an uncontrollable, it has been done, so I did my best to get back and I'm just going to worry about this match.''

Vito has clearly upped the anti in the off-season. He looks noticeably bigger and has clearly been motivated by his national snub. After watching Tim Bateman's efforts last week, he said he was determined to front despite his lack of game time.

Vito is a key lineout option but equally he has a presence at the back of a scrum that is sure to see Bulls loose head Dean Greyling target Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, who struggled in South Africa at the start of the season.

Likewise the Bulls will fancy their chances at lineout time where captain and lock Flip van der Merwe is the likely target and rallying point for their vaunted rolling maul.

In the backs, Alapati Leiua's debut at second five-eighth will enhance the offence but presents a challenge in defence where he must quickly gel with first five-eighth Beauden Barrett in a channel that dogged the Hurricanes earlier this season.

Cory Jane's return on the wing could be crucial in diffusing the Bulls inevitable aerial bombardment from first five-eighth Jacques-Louis Potgieter, a pivot with a huge boot and a feircely competitive streak his team seems to feed off.

The Hurricanes will be keen to play this match at pace. They appear to have finally worked out the folly of kicking away quality possession. Referee Steve Walsh should allow a free flowing affair and the Hurricanes bench are good finishers.

The Bulls arrived in the country on Wednesday night giving them just two days to prepare. The big question is whether the Hurricanes can get themselves up again to take advantage or if history will repeat.

Hurricanes v Bulls

Venue: McLean Park, Napier

Referee: Steve Walsh (AUS)

TAB odds: Hurricanes $1.60, Bulls $2.25

Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (c), Alapati Leiua, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery To'omaga-Allen/John Schwalger, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Chris Eves, John Schwalger/Reggie Goodes, Blade Thomson, Brad Shields, Billy Guyton, Hadleigh Parkes, Marty Banks.

Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Jacques Engelbrecht, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Flip van der Merwe (c), Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe, Morne Mellett, Grant Hattingh, Jacques du Plessis; Piet van Zyl, Handre Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.

The Dominion Post