A bold new era begins for the Hurricanes against a Brumbies side they edged in the 2015 Investec Super Rugby finals series.
ROUND ONE: Hurricanes v Brumbies, 9.40pm, Friday 26 February, Canberra Stadium
The Brumbies will be looking to banish the memories of last year’s semi-final loss when they host the Hurricanes at GIO Stadium on Friday.
Well beaten by 29 points to 9 in Wellington, the Brumbies saw their 2015 challenge come to a close last June as the Hurricanes marched on.
It was to be disappointment though for the ‘Canes against the Highlanders, but nothing should be taken away from what was an excellent year.
Backing that up and then going one better in 2016 without the services of Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith is now the task ahead and there are few reasons to think they can’t do it, as head coach Chris Boyd has players at their peak who can unlock defences at will.
New blood comes in the form of centres Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso but it will be the usual suspects of Brad Shields, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder who will create the magic. Meanwhile, under-rated props Reggie Goodes and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen will also have a large part to play this weekend and onwards alongside hooker Leni Apisai, who comes in for the injured Dane Coles.
Their hosts are also once again looking like challengers for the crown and in many respects they are where the ‘Canes were at this point last year, with Brumbies stalwarts poised to move on at the end of the campaign. They are Matt Toomua (Leicester Tigers) and David Pocock.
Losing the threat of Jesse Mogg is a blow but Joe Tomane, Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani are all deadly in possession while there’s a strong spine from the front-row to half-back. That’s why many have made them favourites out of the Australian sides and we don’t disagree.
Topping their country’s group will of course be key in order to secure their passage to the knockouts and what better way to get the ball rolling than with a win on Friday. That will be easier said than done ahead of what promises to be a thrilling fixture on Australian soil.
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Hurricanes face a Brumbies side which is very hard to topple in the Australian capital. The Brumbies have made Canberra a fortress by winning 13 of their last 16 fixtures in the city. The Brumbies also have the edge in the head-to-head battle with 12 wins to the Hurricanes 9. The Hurricanes have recent form though with a 29-9 win over the Brumbies in 2015.
In Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Cory Jane, the Hurricanes boast what is potentially the most destructive back three in Super Rugby. Savea and Milner-Skudder showed their try-scoring prowess at the Rugby World Cup last year while Jane was unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks squad. Now the three have been reunited, expected fireworks during the Super Rugby campaign.
Fresh from starring for the All Blacks Sevens during their tournament victories in Wellington and Sydney, Ardie Savea is back in the seven jersey for the Hurricanes. Noted as one of the most explosive ball-runners in New Zealand rugby, Savea has developed his loose forward play and is now a skilled turnover expert and pillar in the contact area.
LENI GETS A START
After injuries to Dane Coles and Motu Matu’u, 19-year-old hooker Leni Apsai has been called up for his first Hurricanes start. As far as debuts go, they don’t get much tougher than this. The young Porirua-born rake will square off against Wallabies captain Stephen Moore. Apasai has performed strongly for Wellington in the ITM Cup and will need to be on top of his game to match it with the seasoned veteran Moore.
With the Jaguares making their Super Rugby debut this weekend, there is one Argentinian star who will be pulling on the Brumbies jersey instead. Tomas Cubelli starred for Argentina during their strong Rugby World Cup campaign and will be a suitable replacement for former halfback Nic White. Noted for his sniping runs around the base of the ruck, TJ Perenara will have to be extra vigilant on defence.
2015: Hurricanes won 29-9 in Wellington
2014: Brumbies won 29-21 in Wellington
2013: Brumbies won 30-23 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 37-25 in Wellington
2011: Brumbies won 17-16 in Canberra
2010: Hurricanes won 23-13 in Canberra
2009: Hurricanes won 56-7 in Wellington
2008: Hurricanes won 33-15 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Allan Alaalatoa
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Nigel Ah Wong
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Otere Black, 23 Willis Halaholo
Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)