Laumape searching for space

Ngani Laumape's days of creeping up on teams appear well over.

The Hurricanes' second five-eighth probably didn't begin the Super Rugby season as a huge topic of pre-match discussions. Flatten enough opponents, though, and coaches will suddenly circulate clip after clip of you to their charges.

Give Laumape the chance to take a defender one-on-one and there's only one winner. But such has been his form this year, that those odds haven't been in his favour for a while.

"I've been noticing that and us, as a team, we know what we need to do better," Laumape said ahead of Sunday's semifinal against the Lions in Johannesburg.

Teams work exceedingly hard to identify and exploit space. So, apart from trying to create mismatches Laumape can take advantage of, the Hurricanes are also trying to recognise that, if defenders are jamming in on him, there must be some greener pasture elsewhere.

"As a backline we've got some quality players so if the boys see that they're putting numbers on me, then the boys will call it. I think individually we just need to look up at who's in front of us and whoever's in the space will just call it."

First five-eighth Beauden Barrett tucked the ball under his arm and ran at the Brumbies a bit last week. That's certainly one way of stopping defenders drifting off onto Laumape, as well as utilising Barrett's great running game.

Equally, traffic in the midfield ought to provide opportunities for the Hurricanes' wings to call for the crosskick, as Laumape alluded to.

He doesn't love being an increasingly marked man, but it might turn out to have benefits for his team-mates.

Barrett's often regarded as the Hurricanes' ring master and the man whose vision creates the openings for everyone else. But you'll hear Barrett talk about "pictures" and each of the backline seeing those pictures, communicating what they are and him simply taking advantage of the opportunity the defence have given them.

Finals football can be a slog, as the Crusaders' 17-0 win over the Highlanders indicated last week. Christchurch has been wet again in recent days, so Saturday's semifinal between the Crusaders and Chiefs at AMI Stadium might well be another dour affair.

Not so at Ellis Park. People concentrate on the negative, when they talk about how far away Africa is for New Zealand teams. But, when that team is the Hurricanes, then the destination can be a blessing.

Mud heaps might not suit the Hurricanes' backline, but Ellis Park will. So has Johannesburg in general over the last few days, actually, which has included a sightseeing trip to Soweto.

"I like to train in the hot and when the field is nice and dry. I feel like it suits my game. Definitely enjoy it here," said Laumape.

The Lions might need to look out, then.


Photo: MARK NOLAN/GETTY IMAGES. (Hurricanes second five-eighth Ngani Laumape has been copping plenty of attention lately)