Those many pundits who wrote off the Hurricanes prior to the season due to the exit of Beauden Barrett and the prolonged injury absence of Ardie Savea will see little reason to change their minds.


This follows the Hurricanes’ 27-0 shellacking by the Stormers in Cape Town to kick off their campaign on the worst possible note. It’s true that the Canes were the lamest of the four New Zealand franchises on show by a long shot.

They dropped a ridiculous amount of ball and didn’t achieve any of their tactical goals, as new head coach Jason Holland admitted afterwards. The Stormers did not even have to be that good. They just tackled with gusto and pounced on the visitors’ many errors.

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Yes, the Canes missed Barrett’s ball skills and pace, but the Blues miss him more and he hasn’t even laced a boot yet for them. No, the Canes most missed the go-forward that Savea provides because it was in the forwards where they really came a cropper, beaten up physically at the breakdown by a hungry Stormers pack that included Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, World Rugby player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit and Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi.

The harsh glare of the spotlight will inevitably fall on pivot Fletcher Smith, who started his fourth game, in his second season, for the Canes, out of a total of seven. He was never really able to assert himself in Barrett’s absences last season, scoring 14 points.


It is fair to say that Smith, like most of his teammates, did not have the most auspicious of outings at Newlands. He dropped an early high ball, threw an intercept pass to du Toit and generally could get little going in his 64 minutes before being subbed for Jackson Garden-Bachop. Neither he nor Jordie Barrett even got the chance to take a shot at goal.

But not so fast. There are extenuating circumstances. The Hurricanes had little decent possession with which to operate. Smith perhaps needed to adjust his alignment off both set and phase play. He still, on the evidence of two compelling Mitre 10 Cups campaigns with Waikato, has more breadth to his game than Garden-Bachop, who is a reliable goalkicker but a more limited footballer. James Marshall is a useful utility, not a front-line general.

Smith, in fact, should have been an All Black to Japan in 2018 instead of the lucky Brett Cameron. Sir Graham Henry is a fan.


So take a breath, Canes fans. Have some patience. They need to persevere with Smith, because he will come right, as will the team.

In 2018, they were shoddy in their campaign opener, losing to the Bulls in Pretoria (why do they always seem to travel early to the Republic?), while in 2019 they scraped home against the Waratahs in Sydney in round one and were pegged back by the Crusaders in round two.

This Super Rugby championship will not be won or lost in February, under these exacting conditions. The Hurricanes would love a far slicker display against the Jaguares this weekend, but they are still good enough for second or third in the NZ conference. And Smith is good enough to lead them to those playoffs.

Any No 10 these days who punts proficiently with his weaker (left) foot demands respect… and patience.

Besides which, the Hurricanes cannot possibly play as poorly again.

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