S15 'tightest' in a decade
Wellington - This year's Super Rugby competition is shaping up to be the tightest in a decade, Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said ahead of his side's clash with the Reds on Saturday.
While both sides are already in a 'must win' situation halfway through the season, apart from the table-topping Sharks, who have 31 points, the standings are relatively compressed.
The second-placed Brumbies are on 25 points, while the seventh-placed Hurricanes (21) are just one point behind the Canterbury Crusaders for the final spot in the top-six playoffs.
The 2011 champion Reds are on 16 points and one bonus-point win away from moving into contention, despite sitting a lowly 12th on the table.
"I seem to be saying it every year," Smith, who made his Super Rugby debut in 2004 and celebrated his 100th appearance earlier this season, told reporters after an intense training session in a chilly Wellington on Thursday.
"In the past, we might tell you guys that we treat all matches the same but in honesty there were a few teams where you would rotate a few players," he added of the opportunities to rest players against weaker sides in previous seasons.
"But I don't see that being the case this year. The New Zealand conference is tight and... the way the Aussie sides have played and the form they've shown."
The Hurricanes lost their opening three games and local pundits and fans had begun to grow restless at a lack of consistency in their results with talk of coach Mark Hammett being moved along when his contract expired at the season's end.
The Wellington-based side, however, have won their last three games despite Hammett dropping a bombshell when he said he would not be seeking a contract renewal before they produced their best performance of the season, a 39-20 demolition of the Blues last week.
Hammett has not allowed his side to rest on their laurels this week, pointing out they may have just as easily lost their last three games.
"We are a team, and we have said this openly, that if we drop (our performance) by five percent, those scores are the other way around and we drop those last three games," Hammett said.
"Whether we like it or not, that's the reality of where we are as a team."
The Reds have lost four of their previous five games though both Hammett and Smith were refusing to read anything into those results with three of the losses by three points.
As such, Smith said they could not underestimate the quality of the Wallabies-laden Reds, who will celebrate captain James Horwill's 100th Super Rugby appearance on Saturday.
"It's not always reflective of where they sit (on the table). They're a good side and pose a lot of threats," Smith added.
"They have been very competitive in their (recent) games and could have won a couple.
"I know what kind of hunger that creates because we probably went through it ourselves.
"They'll be up. They'll be a very dangerous side and we have talked about that and that there is no complacency."