Conrad Smith is a much-loved son of Wellington and a stalwart of the Hurricanes side for the last 12 years, and he believes the franchise finally has the right blend of players to challenge for the SuperRugby title.
Captain Smith has seen many disappointments in those dozen years of SuperRugby, with the Hurricanes making the playoffs four times but appearing in just one final – the 2006 clash with the Crusaders which they lost 19-12.
And the one thing Smith, who is bound for promotion candidates Pau after the World Cup, has learned from those experiences is that champion teams need to have grunt up front.
“You need to be a complete team if you’re going to go far in this competition and in the dozen seasons I’ve played with the Hurricanes, we’ve always had an impressive backline but we’ve still come up short.
“It’s because we haven’t always had the complete team, but now our forwards are really fronting up,” Smith said after his team beat the Bulls 17-13 at Loftus Versfeld, their pack leading the way in securing their second successive win in South Africa and ensuring a highly encouraging start to their SuperRugby campaign.
Against both the Bulls and the Lions last weekend, sides renowned for having abrasive forwards, the Hurricanes pack really got stuck in and dominated their opposition.
“Hats off to the forwards, they’ve really carried us through these first two games. There’s lots for us blokes in the backs to improve on,” Smith admitted.
Although the Hurricanes boasted TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Ma’a Nonu, Smith and Corey Jane in their backline, it has been their work in the set-pieces and at the breakdowns that has highlighted their winning start to the season.
There has also been a noticeable improvement in the Hurricanes’ defence, with the Kiwis conceding just eight points against the Lions and 13 versus the Bulls.
“Our defence is something we have focused on, if we’re going to be there at the end of the competition, then defence is something you have to rely on. It’s what wins big games and we’ve been really encouraging there in the first two weeks. In the past the Bulls’ lineout drive has caused us real problems, and our defence of that was outstanding,” Smith said.
New Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd was delighted with the start, but was also cautious to not get carried away.
“We’re delighted with our start, especially winning at Ellis Park and Loftus Versfeld, two bastions of the game over here, and we’re certainly happy with eight points.
“But we’re not overly happy with the way we played tonight and it’s a 16-round competition. Two wins is great, but we could lose the next two or three games,” Boyd said.
However, with a top-class backline waiting to click and a mobile, willing pack, the Hurricanes now have a match against the Force in Perth and then a bye, before a run of home games. They must be a decent bet to challenge strongly for the playoffs if they can maintain their current momentum.