Conrad Smith admits that first matches of the season don’t come much tougher than a showdown with the Stormers at Newlands.
Smith enjoyed an extended holiday after New Zealand won the World Cup last October, and it was initially feared that he wouldn’t be ‘match-fit’ for the start of the Super Rugby competition.
The Hurricanes have, however, confirmed that their captain will be starting in the first fixture against the Stormers, something which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering the lack of experience in the Wellington franchise’s touring squad.
The Hurricanes trained at the University of Cape Town on Tuesday, and while the few students that did wander down to the rugby fields would have recognised 2011 World Cup winners like Smith, Cory Jane and Victor Vito, and perhaps even a Super Rugby veteran like Jason Eaton, they may have struggled to identify more than six or seven players.
The Hurricanes have lost several key players since last season, a fact that will make this year’s assignment at Newlands that much more difficult. They’ll miss a key decision-maker like Piri Weepu at halfback and won’t have the explosive power of Ma’a Nonu in midfield.
‘We realise that we have a lot of youngsters in this side, but we are still pretty motivated to go out there and earn some respect,’ Smith said. ‘We are aware of how hard it’s going to be this Saturday. The Stormers are one of the toughest teams in the competition, and to be playing them first up is a pretty daunting task.’
The Hurricanes will only announce their starting side on Thursday, but all senior members of the squad look set to feature. Smith will start at No 13, Vito at No 8 and Jane will move from fullback to the wing, a move that has proved successful at Test level.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said earlier in the week that every Kiwi team is expected to operate with a trademark intensity and no small measure of flair, but the number of new faces in the Hurricanes’ line-up does make the side something of an unknown quantity.
It’s also been suggested that since Mark Hammett has taken over as head coach (in 2011), the Hurricanes are moving towards a less adventurous approach.
Smith, however, doesn’t view the shift in playing style as a big thing. He said the Hurricanes would continue to employ an approach that suited the strengths of the personnel.
The Stormers will name their match 22 for the game on Wednesday.
By Jon Cardinelli