- By Kevin McCarthy
- Photos by Hugh Pretorius
The knives are out for the coaches, at least for some fans.
That won’t be news to them. Coaching the Hurricanes has always been a juggling act of an often erratic team measured against what potentially that team could do. If you haven’t noticed, then you haven’t been a fan for long.
Last Friday’s massacre at the Cake Tin was that in a nutshell. You could hear the collective smashing of heads into walls into living rooms around the world, and the slow death rattle of the fans stuck in the stadium seats. Here was the team finally footing it up front more or less, and imploding for a change in the backline.
Which team would you know not to gift early points to? The Crusaders. What team would you try to retain the ball against? The Crusaders. What team would you . . . yeah, you get the drift.
Now no doubt all this was part of the pre-match game plan. The Canes do like to impose how they want to play on others, that’s assuming the other side agrees. Not something the Crusaders tend to agree to.
So the camps would appear to split between those who blame the players and their execution, and those who blame the coaching team.
The truth is probably in the middle. Yes, coaches don’t go out and actually play the game. Correct. But on the other hand they are charged with getting the many bits of the machine working in harmony and able to cope with what it faces on the field.
By that measure, the new coaches aren’t setting the world on fire. But it is only seven games in, and far too early to bring out the pitchforks. Let’s see where they stand at season’s end.
At this stage, the fight is on for the Canes to hold onto second. That’s where they realistically are going to be finishing at best. A win this weekend against the Highlanders and the world won’t be quit so miserable – and the bye won’t be unwelcome.
Not surprisingly, Beauden Barrett’s poor form is feeding the debate anew over starting him or Richie Mo’unga. Not surprisingly it’s splitting down partisan lines.
Does it really matter? It’s still very early in the season. If BB is still playing this badly in four months time, then you’d be ushering Richie M into the bigtime.
But I bet you he won’t be.
And I’m very comfortable with the All Blacks blooding Mo’unga in one of the big clashes before the RWC. Let’s say start him against South Africa and give him a good outing in a cauldron. That would be here.
Or away against Argentina in Buenos Aires, always a tough venue.
Come the tournament itself, there’s of pool play to be had of course.
Regardless, we know from past world cups that disaster can strike. At least we’ve got two world class options. That’s one and sometimes two more than most nations
Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree has named Kane Le’aupepe to start at lock after the former Johnsonville and Ories player impressed off the bench in his first appearance for the club in last week’s loss to the Crusaders.
Le’aupepe, who came into the Hurricanes squad as injury cover, replaces Liam Mitchell who moves to the reserves bench following a heavy workload in his first season of Super Rugby.
The other change to the starting side is at centre where Jordie Barrett moves in from the wing with Matt Proctor moving to the bench.
The change means a start on the right wing for Wes Goosen who will make his 30th appearance for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes squad to face the Highlanders is:
15 Chase Tiatia
14 Wes Goosen
13 Jordie Barrett
12 Ngani Laumape
11 Ben Lam
10 Beauden Barrett
9 TJ Perenara (c)
8 Reed Prinsep
7 Ardie Savea
6 Vaea Fifita
5 Kane Le’aupepe
4 James Blackwell
3 Ben May
2 Ricky Riccitelli
1 Fraser Armstrong
16 Asafo Aumua
17 Chris Eves
18 Jeff To’omaga-Allen
19 Isaia Walker-Leawere
20 Liam Mitchell
21 Du’Plessis Kirifi
22 Finlay Christie
23 Matt Proctor