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Revamped Hurricanes Hint At Bench Power To Topple Bulls

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Fuseworks Media
Revamped Hurricanes Hint At Bench Power To Topple Bulls

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Wellington, March 18 NZPA - Hurricanes rugby coach Colin Cooper is hinting at a finishing surge as the key for his struggling side to topple the Super 14-leading Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday morning (NZT).

Cooper has ruthlessly culled several key players, including veteran halfback Piri Weepu, following floundering losses to the Cheetahs and Stormers in South Africa.

They end their tour on the toughest note and Cooper surprised by dropping Weepu, flanker Scott Waldrom, lock Bryn Evans, winger David Smith and prop Jacob Ellison. Their places go respectively to Tyson Keats, Karl Lowe, Jeremy Thrush, Alapati Leiua and John Schwalger.

The only enforced change sees Andre Taylor promoted to fullback in place of Cory Jane, who has flown home after suffering a head knocking during the 37-13 thumping by the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend.

Cooper said a revamped game plan was behind several of the changes, hinting more than once today that a big finish could be one way to overrun the Bulls, whose defence has proved suspect late in their series of high-scoring -- if unbeaten -- matches so far.

Weepu reverts to the impact player role that has been earmarked for him by the All Blacks selectors in recent seasons.

"The game plan going into the Bulls is good for Keats," Cooper said.

"He's performed pretty good on and off the field and we have the experience of Piri coming on late in the game. You can take out of that what you think.

"I guess you've got to send messages and hopefully we'll get good results from the guys who come off the bench."

Cooper explained some of his other changes, pointing out that Smith had been in bright attacking form but was below par on defence, while Waldrom -- who has been left out of the 22 -- lacked the physicality of Lowe.

Ellison was more unlucky after a strong scrummaging effort against the Stormers.

Other areas had let them down in South Africa, namely discipline and ball control.

"We didn't play well against the Cheetahs, I was seriously disappointed. I thought the Stormers played really well and tactically we didn't play how we really wanted," Cooper said.

"We just have to trust what we're trying to do and keep hold of the ball. Sitting in the stand and seeing how much ball we gave to them was frustrating."

Canterbury draft player Keats expressed surprise at his promotion and echoed the coach's words about changing their tactics this week.

"He (Cooper) wants me to carry out the game plan we've come up with and add energy, to keep the Bulls' defenders honest," Keats said.

"Everyone's still very tight. It's been disappointing but I just think we're trying something a bit different. The selections probably suit the changing game plan we brought into this game.

Also making his first start for the season is Thrush, having appeared twice off the bench following recovery from a shoulder operation last year.

Thrush relished the chance to mark outstanding Springboks lock Victor Matfield, who will play his 100th Super rugby match.

Bulls skipper Matfield told South African reporters he wasn't looking for accolades this week, rather a win over opponents he believed would be "angry".

"People say the Stormers softened them up for us, I believe they made them angry," Matfield said.

"They will be very desperate for a win and they are still one of the best sides in this competition.

"If they can pull off a win on the road, it will be huge for them. We need to focus on this week and be 100 percent ready for what they are going to throw at us. We will be up for the game and we know if we play our game, we will do well."

The match is the last at home for the Bulls before embarking on a month-long tour of Australasia.

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