Reeling from three straight losses, the last thing the Stormers would have wanted was to take on the Hurricanes in Wellington this Friday.
The visitors conceded 143 points in those three games and with the ‘Canes putting 56 on the Brumbies before their bye, the signs are not looking good for the Stormers against an outfit in excellent form, inspired by the likes of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea.
What may ease the pain of recent weeks for Stormers supporters is the fact that those defeats came against teams not in their Conference, meaning they currently still sit in third place on the overall standings, despite being seventh if the table was judged on points alone.
They could also be warmed by the fact they have done well against the Hurricanes in the past, with their last meeting in 2015 seeing the men from Wellington prevail to end what was a four-game winning hoodoo from the Stormers. They’ve won six of their last eight games against the ‘Canes.
But this is a very different Hurricanes side from two years ago as the champions have won their last 10 games in succession on home turf, their longest such streak in Super Rugby history. That makes the prospect of losing three fixtures in a single tour of New Zealand appear highly likely for the Stormers, which would be the first time that’s happened since April-May 1998. They should struggle against these ‘Canes.
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd however is wary of the Stormers and isn’t reading too much into their losses to the Crusaders and Highlanders.
“It was only a few weeks ago that they beat the Chiefs in Cape Town and were on a six-match winning streak, so we know they’re a very good side,” he said as the Hurricanes return to action fresh off a bye. “They have had a couple of results they’ll be disappointed with in the past two weeks in New Zealand and I think they will be highly motivated to put a good performance on the park against us in Wellington.”
Meanwhile, Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck wants to see a positive response from his team this weekend.
“We have had to learn some hard lessons on this tour which will be good for us going forward,” he said.
“We face the defending champions and the players are determined to make an impression and show that we can be competitive.”
The last time the teams met: The Hurricanes ran out 25-20 winners in Wellington in 2015 thanks to tries from Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett. Barrett also kicked 10 points while for the Stormers a penalty try and one from Huw Jones were their offerings.
Team news: TJ Perenara will return as captain and Callum Gibbins at openside for the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday. Head coach Chris Boyd has made just two personnel changes to the side that started against the Brumbies in Napier a fortnight ago. Perenara, who was on the replacements bench before the team’s second bye round, switches places with Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, and reclaims the captaincy from Brad Shields. Shields led the ‘Canes for the first time during the 56-21 win over the Brumbies. Gibbins comes back into the starting side for Blade Thomson, whose Super Rugby season appears over following a dislocated shoulder in Napier, meaning Ardie Savea shifts back to number eight for the fourth time this season. The reshuffle in the loose forwards means Reed Prinsep comes back into the matchday 23 this week.
Centre Shaun Treeby will make his first start for the Stormers. Having made his Stormers debut off the bench against his former team the Highlanders in Dunedin last week, Treeby will wear the 12 shirt, having traded places with Dan Kriel. The only other change to the backs sees Dewaldt Duvenage at scrum-half, with Jano Vermaak providing cover this week. In the loose trio Siya Kolisi is back on the blindside flank with Kobus van Dyk getting his first opportunity to start on the openside. Chris van Zyl returns from a week out with concussion to take his place in the second row alongside Jan de Klerk, whilst in the front row there are two new props in the starting line-up as Wilco Louw and Ali Vermaak get a chance. Props Caylib Oosthuizen and Oli Kebble are new additions on the bench, along with lock JD Schickerling.
Form: Before their bye week the Hurricanes were enjoying a five-game winning streak, their last outing seeing them point 56 points on the Brumbies. They’ve lost just once in their eight games so far this season, with their only defeat coming away to the Chiefs in Round Three.
The Stormers, in contrast, are in terrible form coming into this game. After six wins on the spin to start 2017, they have suffered three successive losses, going down to the Lions, Crusaders and Highlanders in consecutive weeks. They leaked 57 points in each of the latter two games.
2015: Hurricanes won 20-15 in Wellington
2014: Stormers won 19-18 in Cape Town
2013: Stormers won 18-16 in Palmerston North
2012: Stormers won 39-26 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 37-13 in Cape Town
2009: Hurricanes won 34-11 in Wellington
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 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 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ben Lam
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Bjorn Basson
Date: Friday, May 5
Venue: Westpac Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)