It's simply not good enough that the Hurricanes don't have a formidable tight five after 25 years of trying
Saturday spoke volumes for Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara.
To have achieved so much at the Hurricanes – while working with so very little – says plenty about what a fine first five-eighth and halfback combination they were.
It’s simply not good enough that the Hurricanes don’t have a formidable tight five or reliable set pieces. When you consider they’ve arguably never had those, then this situation is simply unforgivable.
Let’s linger on Barrett and Perenara a moment.
You assume the Hurricanes have tried over the years to grow or assemble a group of competent tight forwards. Individually there are few names you could toss up – Hurricanes who managed to become or remain All Blacks – but in the big games, when it really counted, good teams like the Crusaders invariably ground them into the mud.
After a while you get a reputation for being a bit weak, so much so that a potential second-generation Hurricane like Scott Barrett realises he’s way better off in Christchurch.
That kind of tag takes a while to shed.
But how about the halfback and first-five positions? For how long did the Hurricanes know that Perenara and Barrett would depart at some point?
In Barrett’s situation, his signing with the Blues was a case of third-time lucky. They’d never made any secret of their desire to get him and he’d never pretended he wasn’t tempted to go.
And yet the poor old Hurricanes never teed anyone up to replace him.
They’ll now wring their hands about the long-term injury to Jamie Booth, but he’s hardly an adequate stand-in for Perenara either.
It’s hard to conjure a good tight five out of thin air, but surely the franchise had planned for life without Beauden and TJ?
Saturday’s 31-16 loss to the Blues was an embarrassment. It’s testament to the ability of a few Hurricanes that the final score was so close, especially when you consider the ineptitude of the home team’s set pieces.
The Hurricanes have one reliable lineout forward – Vaea Fifita – who they dragged in the 43rd minute. Reed Prinsep tries his best, but if the Hurricanes think he’s the answer to anything then they’re asking the wrong questions.
The team is – and pretty much always has been – crying out for tight forwards and yet who do they sign in the off-season? Julian Savea.
They couldn’t even give Ngani Laumape a decent opportunity on Saturday which – again – just shows you how well Barrett and Perenara did for so long.
Tight forwards win you titles. Year after year, it was the Crusaders’ propping rotation that saw them come up trumps.
Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Michael Alaalatoa, the list goes on. Greg Feek, Greg Somerville, Dave Hewett. We’d be here all day if we tried to roll out some of the locks and hookers as well.
Is it recruitment? Is it coaching? Is it culture? Is it even just geography?
Whatever it is, the Blues are a legitimate title-contender this year because they’ve got Ofa Tuungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Alex Hodgman, James Lay, Marcel Renata and Laulala to share the propping duties. Sure, there’s a surfeit of talent elsewhere in the squad too, but it all starts with your four props.
Well, at least that’s where it starts at the better franchises.
At the Hurricanes, it’s always been about hoping the backs and loosies can work enough magic to cover for the deficiencies up front.
Individuals who, on their day, will inspire the team to victory.
But it’s strong set pieces that bring you sustained rugby success. The Crusaders have pretty much always known that and the Blues look like they know that now too.
It’s hard to know quite what the Hurricanes’ excuse is.
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