The Hurricanes will be looking to arrest a three-game losing streak when they entertain the Blues at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
The Hurricanes are however on their longest winning streak against the Blues, a period that spans six matches, as the gulf in class between the men from Auckland and the other New Zealand sides continues to grow.
However, the Blues will feel they are meeting the Hurricanes at the right time as the ‘Canes have now lost to the Brumbies, Highlanders and Crusaders in their most recent outings; the last time they went longer without a win was an eight-game drought across the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
The men from Wellington are still nine points adrift of the Crusaders but are comfortably in line for a last eight place, 13 points above ninth place. They will also be annoyed to have lost their tag as the competition’s stingiest defence to the men in Red and Black, having now conceded 36 tries to the Crusaders’ 33. However, they still boast the best tackle success rate in the competition – 85 percent.
The nature of their defeat to the Brumbies last weekend will concern head coach John Plumtree. They were outmuscled in the driving mauls and at scrum-time, something that will need to be rectified against a powerful Blues pack.
Meanwhile, the Blues will be looking to register back-to-back wins for the first time since Round 12, 2017. A win here is therefore imperative for the confidence of Tana Umaga’s men.
Veteran back-row Jerome Kaino will become the second most capped Blues player when he starts on the blindside flank in Wellington.
Kaino, who heads to France after the season, will play his 138th game for the Blues on Saturday, to go past Tony Woodcock, and sit second on the all-time Blues list behind Keven Mealamu.
And Umaga is confident Kaino will again be a key motivating factor for his side.
“Jerome means a lot to this team and achieving the milestone is great for him,” he said.
“The team wants to send him on his way in the best way we can and that is with performance. And if we get a good performance, the results will come.
“I am sure the Hurricanes will be looking at ways to rectify their situation after three losses in a row, but we have nothing to lose. We will go down there and throw everything at them, get some pride and respect back and also make sure we send our High Chief away on a good note.”
The last time the teams met: The Hurricanes subdued a spirited Blues effort – the Auckland side had led 15-14 after 49 minutes but a late surge from the Hurricanes earned them their ninth successive win in Round 13 earlier this season. Tries from Ricky Riccitelli, Gareth Evans, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Sam Lousi and Matt Proctor proved too much for the Blues who scored through Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Orbyn Leger.
Team news: Hurricanes captain Brad Shields will return to the starting XV for his 100th Super Rugby match.
Shields became the 14th member of the Hurricanes centurions club when he played against the Highlanders last month, having made 99 Super Rugby matches and featured in the dramatic draw against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
The much respected Shields joins Tana Umaga, Rodney So’oialo, Ma’a Nonu, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Conrad Smith, Jeremy Thrush, Cory Jane, Victor Vito, Julian Savea, Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara to have played 100 matches for the club.
Shields missed last week’s match against the Brumbies after he returned from South Africa following his Test debut for England.
His return is one of six changes Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has made to the starting side from the line-up that lost to the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend.
Fly-half Beauden Barrett, who fulfilled the second of his All Black stand-down matches last week, returns while his brother Jordie moves from centre to full-back with Wes Goosen promoted to the number 13 jersey.
There’s also a couple of positional changes with Julian Savea moving from the right to the left wing while Nehe Milner-Skudder moves from full-back to the right wing.
Boyd has also made four changes to the pack where lock Vaea Fifita and prop Ben May return along with Shields while the experienced Blade Thomson moves from the reserves into the starting XV.
Meanwhile, the Blues have been boosted by the return of their captain Augustine Pulu.
Pulu takes over from Sam Nock in the starting line-up and is joined in the matchday squad by another leader in stand-in captain James Parsons, who will come off the bench.
Pulu is the only change to the starting line-up from the team that beat the Reds handsomely at Eden Park last week, while Akira Ioane, who this week confirmed his commitment to the club, is the only Blues player to have started in every game to date in 2018.
2018: Hurricanes won 36-15 in Auckland
2017: Hurricanes won 28-24 in Auckland
2016: Hurricanes won 37-27 in Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 23-19 in Auckland
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
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Wes Goosen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Ben Lam
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Ben Nee-Nee, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 TJ Faiane
Date: Saturday, July 7
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Jamie Nutbrown
TMO: Aaron Paterson