Coach Chris Boyd has no doubt his new midfield pairing of Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso will deliver in the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby season opener against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.
The duo have received the nod to fill the spots vacated by Hurricanes greats Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, with Boyd saying they’d shown the form to earn the start.
“I think they’ve probably been the best performing players over the pre-season – it’s a combination that we’re excited about,” Boyd said after training on Wednesday.
“They have similar traits to the people they’re taking over from.
“Ngani’s a good ball carrier, and Vince had a really good ITM Cup with Auckland – he’s a highly competent player.”
Laumape, a one-time New Zealand secondary schools rugby rep, played three NRL seasons with the Warriors.
He has made the switch back from rugby league with ease, impressing with his application and hard work.
Boyd said he’d watched Laumape closely as a youngster at Palmerston North Boys High.
“He was a quality union player before he went off to the Warriors, and we were really pleased to get him back.
“I thought maybe the transition might take a little longer than it has, but he’s performed really well.”
Hurricanes captain Dane Coles won’t cross the Tasman, the All Blacks hooker having been ruled out of the game by a calf strain suffered at training on Wednesday.
Coles missed all three of the Hurricanes’ pre-season matches through either unavailability or a hamstring strain.
Motu Matu’u is also unavailable after suffering a calf strain two weeks ago against the Blues in Eketahuna, meaning 19-year-old Wellington hooker Leni Apisai will make his first Hurricanes start.
South Africa-born Hawke’s Bay youngster Ricky Riccitelli will replace Apisai on the Hurricanes bench, while All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara will take over the captaincy.
Boyd expects a tough test against the Brumbies, who will be looking to avenge last year’s 29-9 Super Rugby semi-final loss to the Hurricanes.
“They’re an interesting mixture in the way they play, with the (Stephen) Larkham influence and perhaps a bit of the Jake White influence still hanging around.
“They’re a quality side and my expectation is they’ll be near the top of the tree from the Australian conference point of view.”