When Victor Vito describes himself as one of the elder statesmen of the Hurricanes squad, you get a sense of how inexperienced the team is.
But with 34 Hurricanes caps and 13 test appearances for the All Blacks, the 24-year-old’s assessment is fairly accurate.
The rest of the squad – particularly the forward pack – is made up mainly of provincial players while those who have played Super Rugby before have limited experience.
Vito, who made his Hurricanes debut in 2009, joined the squad on January 10 following time off after October’s World Cup, when he filled in for the injured Adam Thomson.
Few are giving the Hurricanes much chance this season but the big loose forward is optimistic and has been impressed with the attitude in the camp since his return.
“It’s a young squad but they’ve been working pretty hard for about five to six week before I joined them as well,” Vito said. “To just see the fitness results and all the contact work and everything that they’ve been doing, they’re keen and raring to go. It’s exciting.”
Vito didn’t follow the exodus following Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu’s unceremonious axing by new coach Mark Hammett.
The loose forward said that with big names like Hosea Gear, Piri Weepu, Hore and Nonu leaving the new breed of Hurricanes could show their wares.
“There’s been some huge positive changes. It opens up doors for younger guys to come through. You’ve got good players like TJ Perenara and Brad Shields that are all up-and-comers and wherever one door closes another one opens for guys like that. These guys are really young and exuberant and look to just really push the older fellas. I’m older now at 24. The guys are coming in at 19-20 and they tend to push you so it’s exciting times for the ‘Canes.”
The Hurricanes have already suffered their first setback of the campaign with burly flanker Karl Lowe ruled out of the pre-season with a knee injury and the 27-year-old could miss the early rounds of the competition proper. Wellington Lions captain Scott Fuglistaller has joined the squad in the interim to cover Lowe’s absence.
Hammett said he believed his group of rookies would have no problem stepping up to the rigours of Super Rugby this year.
“I’ve got no doubt. They have the enthusiasm, they’ve trained very hard so, physically, they’re in good shape. There’s no doubt that if we didn’t have the window we had before Christmas to get them up to speed then we might be more concerned. But there’s no doubt that they are up to speed and now it’s just keeping up with the speed of the game, the intensity and the adversity that comes with week in, week out Super Rugby.”
It is a long campaign and the Hurricanes’ depth will be tested. They went down to the Blues 36-28 in Whangarei in their first pre-season game and were then beaten by the Crusaders 19-8 in Mangatainoka last weekend.
They cap their pre-season campaign with a warm-up game against the Chiefs in Taupo on Friday , before they fly out to South Africa on Saturday.
The season gets underway the following weekend when the Hurricanes meet the Stormers in Cape Town, which is sure to be a tough introduction for some of Hammett’s inexperienced players.