There should be plenty of thrilling action when the Blues and the Hurricanes go head-to-head in their New Zealand derby in Auckland on Friday.
The winless Hurricanes will be desperate to snap their Investec Super Rugby losing streak against a fast-improving Blues side at Eden Park.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Eden Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Hurricanes with five wins out of their last nine visits to the Blue’s territory. However, the overall Super Rugby record favours the Blues with 14 wins to the Hurricanes 10. To overcome the Hurricanes, The Blues will need to snap out of a slump which has seen them win just one match out of their last 12 against New Zealand opponents.
HURRICANES FAVOURITE SON
With a Hurricanes playing-career spanning 11 years and 122 caps, Blues coach Tana Umaga is now plotting the downfall of his former side. The Hurricanes legend has made an immediate impact in his first year as head coach of the Blues. A successful pre-season campaign was followed by a stunning round one win over the Highlanders. The dread-locked coach will want to turn Eden Park into a graveyard for visiting teams and will not take it easy on his former side.
ROTATION, ROTATION, ROTATION
For the second week in a row, the Blues have made a large number of changes to their starting fifteen. The team to take on the Hurricanes features seven changes and two positional tweaks to the team that lost 28-13 to the Crusaders last week. The biggest talking points are the elevation of All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina and Sevens star Akira Ioane to the starting line-up. In the backline, Rene Ranger moves from centre to the wing with Japan international Male Sa’u coming into the mid-field.
RANGER DANGER vs THE BUS
In one of the most anticipated head-to-head clashes of the round, former All Blacks star Rene Ranger takes on incumbent All Blacks wing Julian Savea. Both players have the ability to bust the game wide open with explosive speed, power and x-factor. Savea will be looking to rediscover the form that took him to the top of the Rugby World Cup try-scoring charts while Ranger will be motivated by the challenge of marking ‘The Bus’.
The Hurricanes have injury concerns around big name players Nehe Milner-Skudder, Cory Jane and Dane Coles. The injury niggles to Jane and Milner-Skudder meant the Hurricanes had to wait until Thursday to name their final line up. Captain Dane Coles wasn’t so lucky and was ruled out with Leni Apisai taking the number two jersey.
Although the tournament is still in it’s early stages, both these sides can ill afford any below par performaces after suffering defeats last weekend.
The Blues kicked off their campaign in style with a deserved home victory over the champions, the Highlanders, but were then beaten 26-13 by the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend.
The Hurricanes are yet to regain the form which carried them to last year’s final. They conceded 50 points in their season opener against the Brumbies and, although they fared better in their next outing against the Highlanders, they still suffered a 17-16 defeat.
Both these sides have proven matchwinners and game-breakers but with the likes of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith no longer playing for the Hurricanes the men from Wellington have battled to find their mojo.
The Hurricanes was one of the most entertaining sides in the tournament in 2015 but the statistics tell a different story this season while the Blues, despite that fine start against the Highlanders haven’t fared much better.
Of the teams that played both the opening rounds of matches, the Hurricanes – along with the Western Force – scored the least tries (2) while the Blues are second lowest in that department with four tries.
The Blues have also made the least clean breaks (11) this season and the Hurricanes are next lowest with 12.
Although those statistics should be worrying for the supporters of these sides, this fixture is usually a fast-paced, entertaining affair and this clash should be no different.
2015: Hurricanes won 29-05 in Auckland
2015: Hurricanes won 30-23 in Palmerston North
2014: Blues won 37-24 in Auckland
2014: Hurricanes won 39-20 in Wellington
2013: Blues won 28-6 in Auckland
2013: Blues won 34-20 in Wellington
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Male Su’a, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Melani Nanai
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 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 Willis Halaholo, 23 Cory Jane
Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (10:35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Brett Johnson
TMO: Shane McDermott