Incoming Hurricanes back Tim Bateman has defended coach Mark Hammett against claims he is stifling their natural attacking style.
Skilled midfielder Bateman makes his first appearance of the Super Rugby season in Friday’s game against the Crusaders in Christchurch, having shaken off a pre-season knee injury.
While being sidelined had been frustrating, the New Zealand Maori centre said he had gained an appreciation for the work put in by Hammett and his assistant Alama Ieremia, believing the widespread criticism of the pair is unwarranted.
Under most scrutiny following four losses from the first five games is the Hurricanes’ inability to play the open, attacking rugby expected of a team laden with attacking talent.
It was only when they trailed heavily in last Friday’s 35-31 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin that the Hurricanes threw caution to the wind, resulting in three late tries.
Bateman says they aren’t being tactically shackled by Hammett.
“I feel like we’ve got a structure that’s really flexible,” Bateman said.
“There’s no restriction on how much we can carry or when we should be kicking or passing.
“That doesn’t hold us back. If anything, our decision making has been slightly off.”
Bateman replaces Hadleigh Parkes, while fullback Andre Taylor, who shone over the closing stages in Dunedin, makes his first start this season.
No.8 Blade Thomson and lock Jeremy Thrush also return, for Ardie Savea and Mark Reddish respectively, adding more grunt to the pack.
Bateman says the forwards have a huge challenge on their hands in countering the All Blacks-laden Crusaders pack.
He has challenged his backline colleagues to make the difference against a Crusaders back seven still to fire this year.
The 100th game for Crusaders captain and star All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read will make the challenge even stiffer, Bateman said.
“They’ll obviously try to get up for Reado, he’s been huge for them over a number of years.”