Have the Hurricanes uncovered their next long-term successor to Beauden Barrett at No 10?
Love was the centre of much attention last week when he was named at No 10 against the Crusaders in what was his first start at Super Rugby level and just his second appearance for the Hurricanes after a five-minute spell against the Highlanders last month.
Many wondered how the vastly inexperienced 19-year-old would fare in what was expected to be a daunting task in steering his side around the park against the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
However, the teenager impressed onlookers with a largely faultless display where he showcased attacking prowess and composure with ball in hand during his side’s 30-27 golden point defeat on Sunday.
Hall started for the Crusaders in that match and spoke highly of Love’s performance during his appearance on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
The Super Rugby centurion said he was particularly impressed not only by the way in which Love, who can also play at fullback, was unafraid to take the ball to the line, but also his decision-making as a playmaker.
Hall added that, since the departure of Beauden Barrett to the Blues ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby season, the Hurricanes have lacked a first-five that is so confident in taking the ball to the line, but suggested Love could the player to take on that role.
“The biggest thing that I enjoyed about him… [was] his ability to attack the line and to really ask questions of us defensively,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Love’s performance over the weekend.
“When you’ve got a 10 that can really attack the line and pose questions, not to say Orbyn Leger didn’t do that in his time there, but I just found that Ruben really attacked the line and asked us questions that we had to hold ourselves and actually counter as an attacker.
“Jippa’s [fellow panellist and ex-Blues hooker James Parsons] alluded to all those points around him making really good decisions in his kicking game, and I think the fact that Jordie [Barrett] and Ngani [Laumape] and Luke Campbell actually took a lot of pressure off him and actually helped him with that game management.
“If those guys can continue to make good decisions around him and let him express himself when it comes to that attacking ability, I’d like to see that more coming forward if he is selected at 10 because… having a 10 with attacking ability and can ask questions of the defence at the line opens up a lot of opportunities for other players to be able to go through as well.”
Parsons also heaped plenty of praise on Love as he admired the bravery, athleticism and astute tactical knowledge the youngster offered throughout the match.
Sir John Kirwan believes Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick should be benched by the All Blacks later this year, and that NZR shouldn't re-sign TJ Perenara.https://t.co/xRRVL3hUbj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 13, 2021
“I think Bryn’s key point there was you have to defend him, and the reason you have to defend him is the pace. It’s when you’ve got that speed and they can just take off and go, you can’t afford to not be on them,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“It’s when they’re flat and fast and they’ve got the ability to just go on you, you can’t be switched off and I think Ruben Love’s got that edge of speed about him and he can really leave you looking silly if you don’t stay on him.
“As a defender, you just have to be wary of him. If you just switch off him for a second, you’re more worried about the person outside him, he’ll take you on, because he is courageous. He is, and that’s one thing I picked up, he’s full of courage and he’ll back himself.”
When asked on how the Hurricanes should manage Love for the remainder of the campaign given his youth and inexperience, Hall pointed to how Barrett and TJ Perenara were regularly thrust into the franchise’s starting lineup at the dawn of their careers.
Barrett made his debut for the Hurricanes in 2011 at the age of 19, while Perenara debuted in Super Rugby a year later at the age 20.
The pair assumed their role as the starting halves for the Hurricanes in 2012 and combined to create a formidable partnership at the franchise until Barrett’s defection to Auckland following the 2019 campaign.
Both were crucial in the Hurricanes’ run to back-to-back final appearances in 2015 and 2016, the latter year of which they won their inaugural Super Rugby title.
Hall said that Barrett’s and Perenara’s prolonged run of success at the Hurricanes stemmed from their early inductions in their respective playmaking roles.
With incumbent first-fives Jackson Garden-Bachop and Simon Hickey out for the season due to injuries, Hall indicated a similar selection method should be applied to Love to help him realise his highly-touted potential – even if that means some harsh lessons will need to be learned along the way.
Bryn Hall has revealed all from the Crusaders' golden-point triumph over the Hurricanes – including the key tactics he believes will help teams score victories in #SuperRugbyAotearoa's extra-time periods. #HURvCRUhttps://t.co/nSuV48Q2nb
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 13, 2021
“I think the biggest thing is that they [the Hurricanes] have done it before. What I mean by that is if you look at TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett when they first came in, they’d just finished U20s and they gave them the keys to the car,” Hall said.
“I don’t know how long Garden-Bachop is out for and obviously Simon Hickey is going to be out for the rest of the year, so he’s probably going to actually have a lot of time in the saddle to be able to go through those experiences.
“The biggest thing is that you just keep backing him and I think that you give him that confidence and you’re going to get moments like that on the weekend.
“We’ve talked about his speed and ability to take the ball to the line, but then, game management-wise, there might be a few mistakes that happens. That just comes part and parcel with time in the saddle.
“They’ve done it in that club before with TJ and Beaudy and just being able to give them the keys to the car and you can just let them run with it and, I guess, the teething problems that will come with it, you just take it for what it is.
“Especially for a guy like Ruben, who’s only had one game at first-five, but if that’s his first game at first-five, I’d hate to think what he’s going to be like 10-15 games in.
“I think give him the confidence to be able to play, give him the learnings that he needs to with his game, but just let him express himself and he’ll figure it out with the more games he plays.”
The Hurricanes, currently lying in last place on the Super Rugby Aotearoa standings, have the bye this week before they take on the Chiefs in Hamilton next Friday.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now