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'We've just got to have a plan': Hurricanes boss explains omission of young duo

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland has explained the exclusions of young stars Ruben Love and Salesi Rayasi from his side to face the Crusaders on Saturday.

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The Hurricanes are looking to bounce back from consecutive defeats against Moana Pasifika and the Chiefs at Sky Stadium in Wellington this weekend, but will do so without two of their most promising youngsters in Love and Rayasi.

Love has been touted as one of the best prospects in Holland’s squad, generating headlines last year when he was thrusted into the Hurricanes’ starting lineup at first-five while still a teenager when they hosted the Crusaders in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

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In what was only his second-ever outing, and first-ever start, as a full-time professional, the then-19-year-old acquitted himself impressively against the serial title-winners in a match that the Hurricanes only lost in extra-time.

Since then, much has been made of Love’s potential, with last year’s New Zealand U20 representative – who is capable of playing first-five and fullback – tipped to play a prominent role for the Hurricanes in the years to come.

However, after having started at fullback against the Chiefs last week, the now-20-year-old finds himself on the bench for his side’s clash against the Crusaders.

Including this weekend’s match, Love will have started only three of the six games played by the Hurricanes this year as he struggles to embed himself in Holland’s starting lineup on a regular basis.

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As such, Holland was met with plenty of questions about Love’s status when speaking to media on Thursday, especially after he lost his starting fullback spot to little-known Southland rookie Josh Moorby.

In response, Holland explained that he is eager to see what Love can produce from the reserves late in this weekend’s fixture.

“We think that Josh is pretty unique in the way he’s smart and gets in the game. Not that anyone else isn’t, but I just like the idea of Rubs coming off the bench this week at 10 or at 15 and sort of change the game a little,” Holland said.

When pressed about the lack of continuity Love has received in his selections this season, Holland added that was a factor he and his fellow selectors considered when picking a team for this week, but noted there is a long-term plan in place for the young gun.

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“It’s a good question, because our job is to help continue players and to keep our young players going, and, don’t get me wrong, Rubs is going pretty good. Sometimes you’ve just to keep making calls that are the best for the team at the time,” Holland said.

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“We need to keep balancing that because he’s a super rugby player and we’ve just got to have a real plan around how we make sure that the team’s doing well and Rubs is gaining lots of confidence as he goes. Same for any player we put in.”

Although he has opted for experienced pivot Jackson Garden-Bachop at No 10 this week, Holland said that he views Love as a long-term first-five who also has the ability to slot in at fullback if need be.

As for Rayasi, whose imposing physical frame and elusive running ability has caught the attention of many in recent seasons, Holland said he hasn’t done anything wrong despite having not started since his side’s win over the Highlanders last month.

The high-flying wing got his season off to a rapid start in the opening few weeks of Super Rugby Pacific, impressing with a hat-trick of tries in his first appearance of the year to help the Hurricanes to a late comeback win over the Blues in round two.

Since then, though, Rayasi has been limited to just one more start – against the Highlanders – and has featured just once off the bench, making an appearance in the defeat to Moana Pasifika.

For the third time this season, the 25-year-old hasn’t been included in his side’s match day squad, but Holland said the form of incumbent wings Wes Goosen and Julian Savea meant their selections were warranted.

He added that “the media and the public get carried away with who’s scoring tries” while explaining the reasoning behind Rayasi’s omission.

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“Nothing. He’s been really good,” Holland said when asked what Rayasi had done to not be selected to face the Crusaders.

“As I said, we think that Wes and Jules [Savea] have been pretty solid. I know there’s a couple of things that we’ve nailed out around our [defence] from the weekend, but, Sas [Rayasi], he was good and he showed improvement.

“Sometimes the media and the public get carried away with who’s scoring tries without looking at some of the smaller detail, but we’re really happy how Sas has gone.

“As I said earlier, it’s a massive week ahead for people to play some footy and take some opportunities both as a group and individuals.”

Meanwhile, Holland said there was plenty to like about Jordie Barrett as a second-five after naming him there for a second week running, but didn’t rule out the possibility of shifting him back to fullback, where he has primarily played throughout his career.

“I think, defensively, around collisions, he was outstanding for us and stopped a lot of their attack. I think he’s still giving a lot of direction to how we’re going to play the game,” Holland said of the 36-test utility back.

“He’ll do a good job there again this week, but obviously a pretty outstanding 15, so we’ll see what happens.”

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