Hurricanes hit back at critics
Veteran Hurricanes centre Conrad Smith says his side's recent form is forcing their early-season critics to eat their words.
The 'Canes backed up a stunning away win at the Crusaders, courtesy of what will surely prove a Try of the Season contender from Alapati Leiua, with a fine 25-20 home win over the Bulls in Napier on Saturday.
The flak had been mounting for Mark Hammett and his men after their opening three fixtures against the Sharks, Stormers (who have not won since) and Brumbies ended in defeat. But Smith is confident recent results and performances to match shows the potential in the Hurricanes' ranks.
"You don't have to go back far to where we were copping a lot of criticism, which I thought was unfair at the time, but we knew, we had a lot of faith in ourselves. We stuck to what we were doing and we've reaped the rewards," Smith told Stuff.co.nz.
"The good thing was we had a lot of experience in the team to deal with it. For me there was probably only 20 minutes out of those three games where we let ourselves down. There was actually still a lot of good stuff.
"Looking back, it was a really tough start. Playing the Sharks first up when they'd already had a game, then a Brumbies side who I think we've seen are a very, very good team. They were runners-up last year and I could see that [being a tough game] coming.
"We knew . . . we'd turn the results around. It's a tough competition and we were never far off. Now we're getting across the line which is good.
"There is still a long way to go but it's nice to at least be in a position where we can look at challenging for a playoff spot."
One reason for the 'Canes' turnaround has been the performances of Beauden Barrett, with the All Blacks pivot flourishing at the heart of the franchise's backline.
While his sharp brain and deadly attacking prowess were evident from the off, in recent weeks, it has been the fly-half's kicking that has proved most valuable to his team.
Barrett's goal-kicking percentage for the tournament sits at 86%, and he was more than happy to punish the Bulls from the tee for their transgressions, in particular, knocking over a crucial 40 metre penalty.
The 22-year-old was keen to pay tribute to the efforts of his forwards after the victory.
"It was awesome to see the forwards performance. They got some confidence out of the scrum being so dominant and our big boys stopped their rolling maul, that was their A game and the forwards took that away from them," said Barrett.
"It was the sort of game where you just had to defend and make the most out of those little opportunities we got.
"In the past we might have rushed things. It wasn't perfect at the end, we made a couple of errors, but the intent was there.
"The last two weeks we've just really simplified things. We've been able to start well and the game plan is pretty basic. We just want to be direct, earn the right to play and against the Bulls they like to fan so we had to take the attack to them and most of the time we did that."