Beauden Barrett's all-round brilliance could be what earns the Hurricanes yet another win over the Crusaders in Wellington this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Three months ago, the Hurricanes edged the Crusaders 29-26 in Christchurch. While the Hurricanes scored four tries and Barrett was influential in general play, he missed three shots on goal.
While it was a quality performance, it was not quite up to the standard Barrett has set as one of the best players in the 2014 tournament. He will be aiming for a more accurate performance this week in Wellington, and may feel he has a point to prove after being used so sparingly by the All Blacks during the three-Test series against England.
Both teams will be looking to start well and take a substantial lead into the half-time break. The Hurricanes have the stronger starting XV, and in Barrett they have a player who can translate forward dominance into territory, penalty goals, and try-scoring opportunities. They must strike early and build some scoreboard pressure.
The Crusaders will have similar ambitions. If they can stay with the Hurricanes for the first 60 minutes, they will increase their chances of winning. All Blacks Kieran Read, Dan Carter, and Owen Franks have been included on the Crusaders bench, and will lift the visitors when they are introduced in the latter stages of the contest.
But it would be unfair to expect miracles from these players, especially Read and Carter. The No 8 has battled with concussion in recent months, while the game in Wellington will mark Carter's first of the 2014 season.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 7, Crusaders 16, Draw 2
In Wellington: Hurricanes 3, Crusaders 6, Draw 1
BARRETT'S STATS THAT MATTER
167 – The number of kicks he's made from hand in 2014 (Rank 1)
130 – The number of times he's carried the ball (Rank 10)
192 – The number of points he's scored (Rank 1)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Hurricanes – 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 James Marshall.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Kieran Read, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Rob Thompson.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images