Stand-in Hurricanes captain Dane Coles and head coach Jason Holland have sung the praises of their side’s young stars following their 41-22 win over the Highlanders in Wellington on Friday.

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In doing so, the hosts picked up just their second win of the year in their final match of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season as the Hurricanes put the Highlanders to the sword with some strong attacking intent that allowed them to run in six tries.

The victory, the Hurricanes’ second against the Highlanders in 2021, didn’t prevent the hosts from collecting the competition’s wooden spoon as they finished the round-robin in last place.

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However, Coles, standing in as skipper for the injured Ardie Savea, saw plenty of positives from the result.

“It obviously doesn’t fix anything, but, I think the last month, we’ve showed plenty of heart and just proud of the way we kept turning up,” the veteran hooker told media shortly after the match at Sky Stadium.

“Just stoked for the team and the whole crew to get the win tonight. Very happy.”

Asked why the Hurricanes put on such a show in their final match of a season that was tough for the franchise and their fans, Coles pinpointed rookie halfback Cam Roigard as one of the standouts for the impetus he provided off the bench.

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“I think we just kept attacking. I think we’d gone into our shells in that last 20, but I loved the impact from our bench,” Coles said.

“Cam Roigard I thought was awesome. We just stuck in there and hung in the fight and didn’t give in, I reckon, so that was a pleasing sign.”

The 34-year-old added the Hurricanes’ nucleus of rising young talent – of which includes the likes of Roigard, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Asafo Aumua, Ruben Love, Xavier Numia and Devan Flanders, among others – bodes well for the future.

Retaining and developing such talent could prove to be particularly crucial for the Hurricanes at this point in time given star All Blacks quartet Savea, Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape and TJ Perenara are all coming off-contract this year.

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Regardless of whether those four players will stick around in the Kiwi capital beyond this year, Coles appeared fully confident in the next generation’s ability to deliver success over the coming seasons.

“I think that’s probably one positive we’ve got. We’ve chucked a lot of young guys in there who had some really good game time,” the 74-test All Black said.

“Cam Roigard, when he came on, was outstanding. Peps [reserve wing Pepesano Patafilo] was on his debut. Ruben Love and Xavier Numia, really good that they’ve been chucked in the thick of it.

“It’s just important they know what it means to be a professional and turn up everyday and work hard. What they put in is what they get out on game day, so really pleased for those guys.

“It’s been a tough old start for Ruben Love and those boys when you haven’t won a few games, but, like I said, I’m pleased for tonight. Those guys deserved to get a win because they’ve worked really hard to get a performance they can be proud of.”

Likewise, head coach Holland was similarly impressed with Roigard, who was playing in just his third match for the Hurricanes since debuting at Super Rugby level in the side’s golden point defeat to the Crusaders last month.

The 20-year-old Counties Manukau product was involved again a fortnight later when an injury time penalty by Damian McKenzie denied the Hurricanes victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.

That means Friday’s win was Roigard’s first taste of success in the yellow and black jersey, and Holland was hopeful that there is more to come from the youngster after a difficult start to his Super Rugby career.

“I felt a little bit for Cam when he got a bit of the grief for the Crusaders game when we didn’t quite nail that, but there was a lot of other things happening around him that day, so I was real delighted to see him have an impact on the game tonight when he came in,” Holland said.

“He’s a quality football player, so it was good to see him grow into that game and get a couple of opportunities to show what he does.”

It wasn’t just the young players who caught the eye of the Hurricanes boss, though, as Holland spoke highly of the influence and leadership provided by Coles in the absence of Savea throughout the team’s tough run of results.

“With experience comes a real feel for when you need to have energy and when you need to get into the boys and when you don’t and when you tap them on the back and when you give them a kick in the arse, and Colesy’s all over that,” Holland said.

“I suppose the energy in this team is everybody needs to drive it, and it’s been a little bit niggly, a little but tough when you’re battling, but the boys really stood up.

“They had an opportunity to go into themselves and get a bit sulky or feel a bit sorry for themselves over the last few weeks, but they definitely haven’t done that, so it’s a bit of credit to them, really.”

The Hurricanes will now have an extended break of “a good four or five days” as the Crusaders and Chiefs contest the Super Rugby Aotearoa final in Christchurch this weekend.

Holland’s squad will then travel to Sydney next Wednesday ahead of their first Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash against the Waratahs, where halfback Jonathan Taumateine and flankers Gareth Evans and Vaea Fifita could make their injury returns.

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