Defending champions the Hurricanes are clear-cut favourites to beat the Brumbies when these sides meet in Wellington on Friday.
The ‘Canes have won six of their seven matches, only coming up short against a powerful Chiefs side. They beat the Blues 28-24 in Auckland last weekend.
The Brumbies, on the other hand, lost to the Rebels in Melbourne 19-17 in what can only be considered as a shocking defeat, as the Rebels have often been touted as the worst Australian side in this year’s competition.
The Hurricanes have shown a bit of mercy, giving the likes of TJ Perenara a rest. But their strength in depth is such that they are able to welcome a fresh Cory Jane into the side, who will be looking to up his try tally for the season.
Watch out for Aidan Toua for the Brumbies, who has made the third most running metres in the competition (602) as well as Chris Alcock who has made the fourth highest amount of tackles with 73.
But even relentless tackling should not prevent a Canes onslaught, with Beauden Barrett likely to dictate the game once again from the fly-half position.
This fixture has always been a close encounter on the Super Rugby calendar. There is no doubt that the Hurricanes will be looking to gain revenge on the Brumbies side following last year’s deflating 52-10 loss away from home in Canberra.
This is the ninth time the Hurricanes will be playing at McLean Park in Napier, the first match was in 1996 against the Lions (then known as Transvaal) and the last was in 2015 against the Highlanders, in both cases the Hurricanes came out on top.
Last time the teams met: The Brumbies thrashed the Hurricanes 52-10 in Canberra in the opening round of fixtures last year. Tries from Tevita Kuridrani, Tomas Cubelli, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Stephen Moore, Josh Mann-Rea, Sam Carter and 20 points from the boot of Christian Lealifano ensured a comprehensive victory for the men from the capital. It was upfront where they won the game, dominating at scrum-time and constantly putting their opponents on the back-foot.
Team news: Loose forward Brad Shields will lead the Hurricanes for the first time after being named captain for Friday’s Super Rugby match against the Brumbies at McLean Park in Napier. Scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi makes his Super Rugby debut, replacing TJ Perenara, who moves to the reserves, while wing Cory Jane comes back into the team on the right wing for Wes Goosen. In total there are four personnel changes to the side that ran out against the Blues last weekend at Eden Park, including two in the pack where Blade Thomson and Vaea Fifita start at number eight and lock respectively.
Thomson returns to the field eight weeks after dislocating his shoulder during the Hurricanes round one win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo, while Fifita replaces Michael Fatialofa who suffered a knee injury at Eden Park.
The reshuffle means Ardie Savea shifts back to openside, after several weeks at the back of the scrum, and Callum Gibbins into the reserves where he is joined by lock/loose forward James Blackwell. Ben Lam is set to make his Hurricanes debut as he has been included on the bench, having played 12 times for the Blues previously.
Meanwhile, for the Brumbies, hooker Josh Mann-Rea has sufficiently recovered from a knee injury to reclaim the number two jersey from Robbie Abel, whilst left winger James Dargaville is back in the run-on team in place of Tom Banks. Robbie Abel is named amongst the replacements, where there is also a recall for back-rower Lola Fakaosilea in place of Tom Staniforth with Larkham going to a 5-3 split on the bench as Nigel Ah Wong comes back into contention.
Centre Tevita Kuridrani, who crossed for a try in that rout of the Hurricanes, will team up alongside Andrew Smith in the heart of the Brumbies midfield with leading try-scorer Henry Speight playing on the opposite wing to Dargaville.
Up front, apart from the recalled Mann-Rea, it’s a settled unit with Wallaby props Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa providing bulk in the front-row in front of skipper Sam Carter and Rory Arnold in the second-row. Jarrad Butler, Scott Fardy and Chris Alcock provide the rest of the pack.
Form: The Hurricanes have made a fine start to their title defence. They thrashed the Sunwolves in their first fixture and also claimed victories against the Rebels, Highlanders, Reds, Waratahs and Blues with their only blip being a Round 2 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Brumbies have won three of their seven matches, taking down the Force, Waratahs and Reds while they have lost to the Crusaders, Sharks, Highlanders and most recently against the Rebels.
2016: Brumbies won 52-10 in Canberra
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
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 James Blackwell, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ben Lam
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Nigel Ah Wong
Date: Friday, April 21
Venue: McLean Park, Napier
Kick-off: 19.35 local (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)