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Weepu Wants The Good Times To Roll

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Fuseworks Media
Weepu Wants The Good Times To Roll

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Wellington, Feb 10 NZPA - Piri Weepu has seen the good pre-season vibe at the Hurricanes before.

This year, the All Blacks halfback hopes a dose of pragmatism can carry them an extra yard to the Super rugby title that annually slips their grasp.

Set for a full season of starting in the No 9 jersey, Weepu is upbeat ahead of the Super 14 competition-opener against the Blues in Albany on Friday.

His team won their three pre-season trial matches in promising fashion -- including a defeat of the Blues in Mangatainoka -- another strong squad has been assembled under coach Colin Cooper and injuries have been shaken off. That includes his own, with Weepu over the ankle injury that ruled him out of the All Blacks' season-ending tour.

"This year is the same as any other really. We've never really had any strengths, it's been more about expressing ourselves and trying to be the team that we can be on the day," Weepu told NZPA.

"Sometimes we get days we think we are the team we normally are, but we don't get the basics right -- always dropping the pill or our kicking game's not that great.

"It's a full-on competition. You can't rest for one week and then come back into the competition."

The most notable "off" day last year was the semifinal loss to the Chiefs on a misty night in Hamilton -- marking the fifth time the title-less franchise have reached the playoffs in the seven seasons under Cooper.

Weepu believes another year of experience for the Hurricanes' senior core and the addition of talented youngsters such as first five-eighth Aaron Cruden can carry them further.

Age group star Cruden has been named on the bench this weekend, but Weepu doesn't think it will be long before he gets a chance ahead of Willie Ripia to slot between himself and the fatherly figure of Ma'a Nonu at second five-eighth.

"Azza's gone all right. He hasn't felt the full wrath of the competition yet but he's got a couple of trial games under his belt and I guess he's feeling quite comfortable in the team.

"If there is pressure on him, I'm sure the likes of Ma'a and myself can show the lead for him."

Cooper today named a predictable, All Blacks-laden backline but it was in the pack -- led by new captain Andrew Hore -- that some eyebrows were raised.

Canterbury lock/loose forward recruit Michael Paterson will start at lock alongside Jason Eaton, pushing surprise 2009 All Black Bryn Evans to the reserve bench.

And the loose forward trio comprises Victor Vito at the less-familiar No 8 role, alongside Scott Waldrom and Manawatu's rangy Nick Crosswell.

Even with veteran No 8 Rodney So'oialo missing the opener to add some weight to his frame in the gym, it still leaves no room for benched openside Karl Lowe.

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