Dynamic flanker Ardie Savea is likely to be cleared fit for the Hurricanes in a major boost ahead of the Super Rugby final against the Highlanders.
Savea has been bracketed with the squad’s other openside specialist Callum Gibbins for the decider in Wellington on Saturday in an otherwise-unchanged starting team.
The 21-year-old damaged knee ligaments during their 29-9 semi-final thumping of the Brumbies last Saturday and was forced off after a compelling 50-minute performance.
He trained separately from the team on Thursday but coach Chris Boyd was heartened to hear subsequent reports from medical staff.
“He’s made really really good progress since Saturday and I think there’s a good likelihood that he’ll play.
“He’s been in red-hot form. I thought he played particularly well in the 50 minutes he had last week.”
Boyd says he is prepared to give Savea up until kick-off to be cleared but expects the hard-charging No.7 will get the green light before then.
There was more good news with confirmation that form outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder, who also exited midway through the semi-final, has been cleared of a hamstring complaint.
He will fill the right wing berth that has been the domain of veteran All Black Cory Jane in recent seasons.
Boyd was impressed when Jane ruled himself out midweek because of an ongoing hamstring strain, describing it as a “mature” act from a player who would have been desperate to take part in the team’s bid for a maiden title.
There is one change on the bench, where hooker Motu Matu’u has recovered from a knee injury and replaces Brayden Mitchell.
A sold-out crowd at Westpac Stadium will witness the last Hurricanes game for six departing players, including three long-serving veterans – midfielders Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and lock Jeremy Thrush.
Their exit, along with prop Ben Franks, midfielder Rey Lee-Lo and halfback Chris Smylie means the Hurricanes will be shorn of 468 Super Rugby caps.
Boyd says they are gleaning no extra motivation to win a title for those players.
“There’s no emotional button for this game. We just need to keep clear minds and make sure that we stick to what we need to do.
“How could the emotion not take care of itself when you run out and there’s 35,000 people at the Cake Tin and it’s game on.”
Former All Blacks captain and Graham Mourie, the Hurricanes’ second-ever coach, will address the players before kick-off.
Hurricanes: James Marshall, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith (capt), Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea/Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Franks, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Motu Matu’u, Chris Eves, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Gibbins/Mark Abbott, Blade Thomson, Chris Smylie, Rey Lee-Lo, Matt Proctor.