Halfback Jonathan Taumateine has been challenged to find his voice and bark at some big name Hurricanes team-mates as he prepares to succeed TJ Perenara in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The 24-year-old Counties-Manukau No 9 is in the box seat to start against the Blues in round one on Saturday week, after he was named alongside Jackson Garden-Bachop for the Hurricanes final pre-season hit-out against the Highlanders in Alexandra on Friday.
Garden-Bachop ended last season as the sides first choice first five-eighth and is unchallenged there now after new recruit Simon Hickey suffered a season-ending knee injury when tackling Vaea Fifita during an intra-squad match.
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark says Super Rugby clubs need six home games ‘to survive’ as this year’s trans-Tasman competition looks increasingly unlikely.
Coach Jason Holland named a strong starting lineup on Wednesday, including new skipper Ardie Savea, Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape and Asafo Aumua after they sat out last Saturday against the Blues and Chiefs.
READ MORE:* Super Rugby Aotearoa: New Hurricanes recruit Simon Hickey’s season over with knee injury* Covid 19: Highlanders v Hurricanes up in the air as Super Rugby fears emerge* ‘It’s a three horse race’: Rookies audition for vacant Hurricanes’ No. 9 jersey* Super Rugby Aotearoa: Hurricanes announce Ardie Savea as first-time captain for 2021
Frontliners absent on Friday will be centre Peter Umaga-Jensen (paternity leave), flanker Reed Prinsep (calf) and hooker Dane Coles, who is slowly building his way into the season with his recent injury history, assistant coach Chris Gibbes said.
With Perenara playing this season in Japan, and his backup Jamie Booth not expected to feature at all after suffering a broken leg last year, the spotlight shines on the little men.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Halfback Jonathan Taumateine strides out against the Blues in Upper Hutt last Saturday.
Taumateine made his Hurricanes debut off the bench against the Sunwolves nearly a year ago and saw minimal game time in 2020 behind Perenara and Booth.
Now hes at the head of the queue, with Luke Campbell and Cam Roigard both named on an extended bench for the trip south. Being a key link between Savea and Garden-Bachop, and finding a similar level of vocals to Perenara, was the task for the halfbacks.
When youre filling the shoes of someone like TJ it takes a while to build that confidence and to stand up and demand something of the forwards which is what all good nines should be doing: barking at the forwards and they will respond to that, Gibbes said.
Weve put some challenges down for those nines to get to that point. Those connections take time, and theyre working hard. Its always a work in progress.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
New Hurricanes recruit Simon Hickey suffered a season-ending knee injury in an intra-squad match.
Hickey, the Auckland pivot recruited last year on return from Europe, was a significant pre-season loss.
He confirmed his knee ligament injury in a sombre Instagram post on Tuesday.
Said Gibbes: It was in the internal hit-out we had, he tackled Vaea Fifita and twisted his knee and, unfortunately for him, ruptured his ACL. Thats a season-ender for him and very disappointing.
Obviously the whole squad feels for him, but hes a champion guy and he was back in here the next day supporting the boys. Hugely disappointing but hes a good man and hell bounce back.
Potential first-five backup Orbyn Leger is on the bench while another young No 10 Aidan Morgan was also training with the squad but not yet an official part of it. Asked if Barrett was a possible backup option, Gibbes said: Were open to everything. At the moment hes the best 15 weve got and well cross the bridge when we get to it.
Coles was touch and go for the opening round, as they handle their senior All Black with care. Were taking his training day by day, and its a bit hard to say at the moment.
Prinsep wont make round one due to a calf injury but wasnt far off, Gibbes said. Devan Flanders, who had a monster season for Hawkes Bay, wears No 6 against the Highlanders.
Hurricanes team to face the Highlanders: Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonathan Taumateine, Ardie Savea (captain), DuPlessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Xavier Numia.
Reserves: James OReilly, Tyrone Thompson, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Caleb Delany, Liam Mitchell, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose, Zane Kapeli, Tyler Laubscher, Luke Campbell, Cam Roigard, Orbyn Leger, Danny Toala, Vince Aso, Salesi Rayasi, Pepesana Patafilo, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love.