The Reds will have to deliver their best performance of the season if they want to beat the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby clash in Brisbane on Saturday.
After five rounds of matches, the home side are desperate for a win with their only victory registered way back in the first round against the Sharks.
After adding proven internationals like Stephen Moore, George Smith, Quade Cooper and Scott Higginbotham to their ranks at the start of the season, there was plenty of optimism in the Reds’ camp.
Things have not gone according to plan, however, and the 2011 champions are currently on a four-match losing streak which includes a 22-8 defeat to the Jaguares last weekend.
And despite playing at home, they will approach this clash with trepidation as the Hurricanes have won five of their last six matches in Australia, including each of their last two, with their five wins coming by an average margin of 18 points.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task which awaits his charges against the champions.
“The Hurricanes will be a massive challenge,” he said.
“We have to look at that as an opportunity. We’ve had some really disappointing losses over the last few weeks, but you can sense within the team that we’re close to producing the right result on the field.
“Last week’s performance simply wasn’t good enough, but the players have been honest in their appraisal and committed to learning from it and getting better. It’s been a tough few weeks, but we couldn’t be happier to be back at home this weekend with an opportunity to make our fans proud.”
The Hurricanes will be quietly confident as they head into this fixture as they are one of the most attacking teams in the competition.
The champions have already scored 33 tries from their four matches this season and have game-breakers throughout their ranks.
Hurricanes trio Vince Aso (six tries, one assist), Ngani Laumape (five, two), and Ardie Savea (four, three) have each been involved in seven tries this season; only the Lions’ Rohan Janse van Rensburg (eight) has been involved in more.
The last time these teams met: The champions claimed a 29-14 victory in Wellington but the Reds made them work hard for the result. The Hurricanes led 12-6 at half-time but turned on the style after the interval. Jason Woodward led the way for the ‘Canes with a brace of tries and Wes Goosen, Dane Coles and Ngani Laumape also scored tries. Chris Feauai-Sautia scored the Reds’ only try.
Team news: Reds head coach Stiles has made four changes to his starting XV after last weekend’s loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. In the forwards, lock Rob Simmons returns to the starting side in place of injured Izack Rodda, who suffered an ankle injury in last week’s loss to the Jaguares. A shuffle in the back row sees George Smith return to the starting number seven jersey, with Adam Korczyk shifting to blindside flanker and Hendrik Tui moving to the bench. In the backs, Chris Kuridrani returns to the starting wing for the first time since Round two, with Izaia Perese on the bench. Stiles has also named one potential debutant in the matchday 23, with Queensland U20 fly-half Hamish Stewart on the bench.
Hooker Ricky Riccitelli is the only change to the Hurricanes starting side for this fixture. Riccitelli comes into the side for captain Coles who has been rested for the match due to a bruised knee suffered during the Hurricanes most recent win over the Highlanders. Scrum-half Perenara will captain the side in Brisbane. There will be two significant Hurricanes milestones this weekend with Manawatu loosehead prop Chris Eves set to gain his 50th cap and reserve back Pita Ahki his first.
Form: After claiming a narrow 28-26 home win over the Sharks in their opener, the Reds suffered a 26-19 loss to the Western Force in Round two. In the next clash, the threw away a 20-7 half-time lead against the Crusaders before losing 22-20 and then lost 44-14 to the Reds in Round four. They also suffered that 22-8 defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend.
The Hurricanes kicked off the defence of their title with superb victories over the Sunwolves (83-17) in Tokyo, and the Melbourne Rebels (71-6) but lost their next match against the Chiefs (26-18) in Hamilton. They returned to the victory trail against the Highlanders (41-15) in Wellington and had a bye last weekend.
2016: Hurricanes won 29-14 in Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 35-19 in Brisbane
2014: Hurricanes won 35-21 in Wellington
2013: Reds won 18-12 in Brisbane
2011: Hurricanes won 28-26 in Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 44-21 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 37-28 in Brisbane
2008: Hurricanes won 23-18 in Wellington
2007: Reds won 25-16 in Brisbane
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Markus Vanzati
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ben May, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Pita Ahki
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 21:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Amy Perrett (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)