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Perenara in doubt for 'Canes

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Sportal.co.nz     17 Apr 2012     Getty Images

The good news was the re-signing of hooker Dane Coles for the next two Investec Super Rugby seasons. The bad news was the injury to livewire halfback TJ Perenara which could see him miss this weekend's blockbuster against the Crusaders.

Perenara hurt his ankle during a conditioning session on Monday morning.

"I'm not sure how bad it is but he looks a bit sore at the moment," Hammett said.

Losing Perenara would be a blow for the Hurricanes as he has been one of the form No.9s of the competition with his sniping around the rucks and bullet passes.

If Perenara is ruled out, Chris Eaton will make the step up from the bench with Wellington's Frae Wilson coming in from the Hurricanes' wider training group as back-up.

The Hurricanes lost first-choice halfback Chris Smylie to injury before the season even kicked off.

"We've seen Chris Eaton and how good he's been with the impact he's made when he's come on for the last 20-25 minutes," Hammett said. "He offers a different feature to the game."

And the coach was confident Wilson would slot in comfortably, adding: "Frae's been with us right through the campaign in the wider training group. He's very much up to speed with what we're doing and how we're playing the game."

No.8 Victor Vito is expected to be back in the mix this weekend following his calf injury, but fellow loose forward Brad Shields (shoulder) was rated only 50-50 by Hammett.

The injury to Perenara took some of the gloss off the announcement Coles would be staying for 2013 and 2014, but Hammett was obviously delighted to have kept the dynamic, ball-carrying rake at the franchise.

"We're really happy. He's obviously happy here. From my perspective he's made huge gains this year," Hammett said.

"We've always known what his game is like, his ability to run with the ball in the loose but it's probably the tight part of his game and his defensive organisation which has captured my eye. But it hasn't just happened. He's worked really, really hard at that. It's making a big difference."

Coles and his fellow forwards can expect a big test at Westpac Stadium on Saturday from a Crusaders pack that is finally starting to find its mojo.

While Kieran Read has carried on the form he showed in the World Cup, some of his teammates have taken a few weeks to finally hit their straps. Openside flanker Matt Todd had arguably his best game of the season against the Stormers last weekend, while lock Luke Romano made a big impact off the bench.

Whichever front rowers are selected by their coach Todd Blackadder, the Hurricanes' trio can expect a torrid time and Hammett felt it was no secret that his side would be targeted up front.

"They've got a very strong forward pack haven't they? So if I was coaching them that's probably the first thing I would be targeting," he said.

There is no shortage of talent in the backline either. Tom Taylor's record-breaking efforts earned him the plaudits at the weekend but with Dan Carter expected to stay at 12, Robbie Fruean starting to make more of an impact and Israel Dagg showing some improvement at fullback, the Hurricanes could have their work cut out on Saturday.

"They're a good side," Hammett said. "But we're a good side as well. We've worked hard and we've shown that we are actually a smart team.

"We have to have another week where we add the passion and commitment to the smarts."

Certainly, if the Crusaders continue to kick aimlessly, like they did at times in their kick-heavy game-plan against the Stormers, the Hurricanes back three of Andre Taylor, Julian Savea and Cory Jane will profit.

For Hammett the key will be whether his side can build on the platform it has laid in the opening eight weeks of the competition.

"Because the bye came at the time it did, roughly halfway through, it gave us a really good amount of time to focus on where we're at, what we're doing and where we need to bring the subtleties into our game," he explained.

"It's not about changing things. It's about adding subtleties to what we're doing on defence and on attack."