Although they avoid a home derby in round one, the Hurricanes will have their work cut out against last year’s Australian conference winners the Waratahs at a packed Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
Match details: Waratahs vs Highlanders, 9.45pm (NZT) Saturday 16 February, Brookvale Oval, Sydney
Won: Waratahs 10, Hurricanes 12
Last time: Hurricanes 38, Waratahs 28 (7 April 2018)
Referee: Angus Gardner
The biggest selection talking points for the Hurricanes are at lock and first five-eighth. With injury concerns in the second row to Sam Lousi and Vaea Fifita, Manawatu’s Liam Mitchell will make his first Super Rugby start alongside 23-year-old James Blackwell. Due to the resting of Beauden Barrett, former Highlanders pivot Fletcher Smith will start in the ten jersey with the retuning James Marshall providing cover on the bench. Hurricanes coach John Plumtree said the squad’s depth is being tested early in the season. “There are a couple of youngsters in that pack who I thought we would give an opportunity to eventually, but I didn’t think it would be quite this early. We’ll find out how they cope with that,” Plumtree said.
CENTRE OF ATTENTION
The Waratahs unveil a new-look centre pairing with former Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Karmichael Hunt linking up in the midfield. Both players are new to the Waratahs with Hunt making the switch from the Reds and Ashley-Cooper returning from Japan with a spot in the Wallabies Rugby World Cup squad seemingly in his sights. The star-pairing bring no shortage of experience with over 250 Super Rugby and international games between them.
The Hurricanes will need to contain the threat of Waratahs playmaker Bernard Foley if they are to get their season off to a winning start. Foley was brilliant for the Waratahs in 2018 with a competition leading 223 points. While his goal-kicking percentage was an impressive 83%, Foley was just as dangerous with ball in hand with 19 clean breaks – more than any other first five-eighth in the competition. The diminutive pivot also laid on ten try-assists and expertly guided the Waratahs around the park with his seasoned boot.
The Hurricanes have won nine out of their last 11 games played in Australia.
This is shaping up to be an intriguing clash. Aside from Kurtley Beale who is being rested, the Waratahs are putting out a virtually full strength side and will be desperate to start their season on a positive note on their new home ground at Brookvale Oval. The Hurricanes know how competitive the New Zealand conference is and will not want to play catch up with a first round loss. An extremely tough result to pick. Although both teams are laden with flashy play makers and exciting game breakers, it might be upfront where this is won. Whoever can get the edge at set piece time and at the breakdown may just provide their team with enough clean ball to pick up the win.
15: Israel Folau 14: Alex Newsome 13: Adam Ashley-Cooper 12: Karmichael Hunt 11: Curtis Rona 10: Bernard Foley 9: Jake Gordon 8: Jack Dempsey 7: Michael Hooper 6: Ned Hanigan 5: Rob Simmons 4: Jed Holloway 3: Sekope Kepu 2: Damien Fitzpatrick 1: Harry Johnson-Holmes
Reserves: 16: Silatolu Latu 17: Rory O’Connor 18: Chris Talakai 19: Lachlan Swinton 20: Will Miller 21: Mitch Short 22: Mack Mason 23: Cameron Clark
15: Jordie Barrett, 14: Vince Aso, 13: Matt Proctor, 12: Ngani Laumape, 11: Ben Lam, 10: Fletcher Smith, 9: TJ Perenara, 8: Gareth Evans, 7: Ardie Savea, 6: Reed Prinsep, 5: Liam Mitchell, 4: James Blackwell, 3: Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2: Ricky Riccitelli, 1: Chris Eves.
Reserves: 16: Dane Coles, 17: Xavier Numia, 18: Ben May, 19: Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20: Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21: Finlay Chrsitie, 22: James Marshall, 23: Wes Goosen.