Beauden Barrett's all-round brilliance will propel the Hurricanes to another derby win over the Blues in Auckland this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
In the absence of Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden, Barrett has been the pick of the New Zealand flyhalves. Indeed, it isn't a stretch to suggest he's been the best No 10 in this year's Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
The Hurricanes owe their resurgence to the little master. His goal-kicking has been a highlight, but then so too has been his line-kicking. He came into this year's competition with a reputation for attacking play, and yet it's his tactical kicking as well as his composure and accuracy in front of goal that's made all the difference.
That's not to say his attacking game has suffered. On the contrary, the Hurricanes have managed to strike a terrific balance between the running and kicking game. Barrett has continued to present a threat with ball in hand, whether he's attacking the opposition midfield or unleashing the likes of Julian Savea, Cory Jane, and Andre Taylor out wide.
The Hurricanes are coming off a resounding 45-8 win over the Chiefs. They will also feel that they have the wood over the Blues, having thumped the Auckland side 39-20 earlier in the season.
The Blues recently lost to the Sharks in Albany. However, what will encourage John Kirwan's men is the fact that they have not lost at Eden Park in five matches this year.
That record, however, could be broken this weekend.
Only the Cheetahs, Lions, and Reds have leaked more tries than the Blues this season. The Hurricanes will be favourites to exploit the Blues' defensive weakness, as they are statistically the best attacking team in the competition, with 383 points and 42 tries in 13 games.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: 22, Blues 13, Hurricanes 8, Draw 1
In Auckland: Blues 7, Hurricanes 4
BARRETT'S STATS THAT MATTER
188 – The number of points he's scored in 2014 (Rank 1)
157 – The number of kicks he's made from hand in 2014 (Rank 1)
5 – The number of tries he's scored in 2014
4 – The number of offloads he made in Round 15 against the Chiefs
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Albert Nikoro.
Hurricanes – 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks/Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon/Motu Matu'u/Goodes/ Michael Kainga, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 James Marshall.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/ Getty Images