There were few bright spots for the Hurricanes in Sunday’s 33-16 defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch, although a second half fightback led by an infusion of talent off the bench helped the visitors to a respectable final scoreline.
After falling behind 26-6 at halftime following a Crusaders onslaught while captain Ardie Savea was yellow-carded, the afternoon quickly got worse when Codie Taylor scored off an errant line out throw to make it 33-6 early in the second half.
In desperate need of a turn around, it was substitute wing Salesi Rayasi who offered some spark to the Hurricanes attack and troubled the Crusaders with every touch.
Rayasi clocked 58 metres on five carries in his 20-minute span and was involved in a number of breaks for his side. On his first touch, he went round Crusaders flanker Sione Havili and freed up Ngani Laumape for a line break back on the inside with a one-handed offload.
Catching a goal line dropout from Jordie Barrett, a step and spin by Rayasi discarded two Crusaders before a backhand flick offload sent Laumape away down the sideline again for a long break that finished in a try to Peter Umaga-Jensen.
His performance wasn’t perfect, a cold drop from the kickoff soured things moments later, but the eye-catching cameo was noted by viewers online, with fans asking why Rayasi had been sitting on the bench behind the recently-returned Julian Savea.
Savea’s high-profile return has led the Hurricanes to favour their former star man in the first two rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa instead of one of the form players of last year’s Mitre 10 Cup, where he scored 14 tries for Auckland.
Rayasi should be starting for the Canes, Julian Savea is a shell of himself. #CRUvHUR
— Maybe: 2021 Macca (@_MaccaNZ) March 7, 2021
salesi rayasi deserves to start next game.
— YT: Breezy from the O (@PiniSixolile) March 7, 2021
Rayasi carved for Auckland two seasons running.
Ridiculous he’s behind a guy who seems past it.
— NV (@KFCQuarterPack) March 7, 2021
Despite the drop at the end, ‘Canes should have played Salesi Rayasi from the start. The guys dynamite!#CRUvHUR
— ¯\_(?)_/¯ (@LackOfToast) March 7, 2021
I feel Savea is looking in great nick and very sharp but agree that they have to get a start for Rayasi next week somehow. He can be a game breaker.
Laumape almost invisible so far.
— Merv Robertson (@MervRobertson) March 7, 2021
Magnificent performance from Jona Nareki. Makes you wonder why Salesi Rayasi is stuck on the Hurricanes pine. #CHIvHUR
— J.B. Claims (@jbclaims) March 5, 2021
100% agree, can only be sentiment or compromising pictures picking Savea over Rayasi
— James Kennedy (@kendolphexpress) March 5, 2021
I was expecting so much from Julian Savea but nothing yet
— Ginger beard (@ren_mbi) March 7, 2021
salesi rayasi should be starting lowkey
— Ahk_£anez (@zakhaevski) March 7, 2021
RugbyPass writer Mike Rehu graded Rayasi a 7/10 for the game, the second highest score for a Hurricanes player behind Jordie Barrett.
“On at 57 impressed straight away with some intent. However, it turned into a yo-yo outing for the talented wing with a couple of whoopsies,” he wrote.
“One thing you can’t deny is his pace and elusiveness. Surely worth a start.”
Rayasi debuted for the Hurricanes in 2019, but saw limited game time behind incumbent Ben Lam. However, despite the lack of Super Rugby game time, his form in the Mitre 10 Cup had many predicting bigger things to come.
Famed Irish writer Murray Kinsella wrote in November 2020 that “2021 will surely see him change that” after his “scintillating form” for Auckland.
He was one of many who were eager to see Rayasi in action before the current Super Rugby Aotearoa season had even kicked-off.
Salesi Rayasi has been in scintillating form for Auckland in the #Mitre10Cup.
The 24-year-old wing has yet to really get going at Super Rugby level with the Hurricanes but 2021 will surely see him change that. pic.twitter.com/2SL5tIxSp4
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) November 3, 2020
I hope Salesi Rayasi gets more game time for the Canes this year. He’ll definitely be pushing for an All Black spot if he gets good game time
— Aaron Ryan (@Lilman_Aaron) February 19, 2021
I'm quite keen for Salesi Rayasi to get a bit more game time for the Hurricanes next season, anyone agree?
— Jamie Wall (@JamieWall2) November 15, 2020
Salesi Rayasi has been on fire tonight for Auckland. 3 tries for the wing. Does he get one of the wing jerseys for the Hurricanes in 2021?
— Adrian Slabbert (@adrian_slabbert) October 31, 2020
With two losses from their first two games, the Hurricanes get a chance to recalibrate with a bye in round three.
Changes, including a promotion into the starting side for Rayasi, could be in line after the rest as they face a must-win clash against the Chiefs, who are also winless after their first up game against the Highlanders, in Wellington on March 20.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now