• Blues brace for lethal Savea

    Hurricanes wing Julian Savea will provide the Blues with a stern defensive test in Palmerston North on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

    Steve Hansen created a bit of a stir last year when he said Savea was 'probably better' than legendary winger Jonah Lomu. The All Blacks coach believes Savea can do more than Lomu and has more to his game.

    Savea is certainly more than just a strong ball-carrier who can steamroll defenders. He has excellent handling skills, offloads well in the tackle, is safe under the high ball, a good defender and can turn around easily to chase a kick in behind him. 

    He is also a try-scoring machine, having crossed the line 30 times in 33 Tests. While Savea doesn't have the same strike rate in Super Rugby, with 26 tries in 59 matches, he's already got two from three outings this season and you wouldn't bet against him adding to that tally in round five.

    The Hurricanes have made the perfect start to their 2015 campaign, with three wins away from home against the Lions, Bulls and Force (they had a bye last weekend). The Canes have always had outstanding attacking backs, but this year they also boast an impressive pack, which seems to be thriving under the influence of assistant coach John Plumtree.

    In contrast, the Blues have suffered four consecutive defeats – to the Chiefs in Albany, the Stormers in Cape Town, the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and the Lions in Albany – to find themselves rooted to the bottom of the combined log. Their last two defeats were the most disappointing as they dominated possession and territory, only to let themselves down with poor finishing in the red zone.

    John Kirwan's job as Blues head coach was said to be under threat going into the Lions game, so he will really be feeling the pressure following that 13-10 defeat. Unfortunately for him, things are unlikely to get any better in Palmerston North.

    The Blues will be without captain Jerome Kaino, who failed a concussion test the day after their match against the Lions. Luke Braid will therefore lead the team in his absence, with Brendon O'Connor at blindside flank and Steven Luatua shifting to No 8. In other changes, Tony Woodcock is back at loosehead prop after being rested last week, while James Parsons will start at hooker.

    The Hurricanes have made four changes to their backline, with TJ Perenara returning to start at scrumhalf, Conrad Smith back at outside centre, Matt Proctor on the right wing and Nehe Milner-Skudder at fullback.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: Hurricanes 8, Blues 14, Drawn 1
    In Wellington/Palmerston North: Hurricanes 4, Blues 6, Drawn 1

    STATS AND FACTS
    – The Hurricanes are aiming to win their opening four fixtures for the first time; they followed three wins with a loss in their fourth game in 1998, 2005, 2006 and 2010.
    – In contrast, the Blues are enduring their worst ever start to a season, losing their first four fixtures, and have now lost six in a row stretching back to last season; another loss would equal their worst ever run of seven losses in a row (May 2013 to February 2014 and March to May 2012).
    – The Blues have won three of their last four against the Hurricanes, but have managed just two wins in Wellington since 2002 (lost four, drawn one), which is just as well, considering this clash will be played in Palmerston North!
    – The Hurricanes have the best tackling success rate this season, making 91% of their tackles so far.
    – The Blues have the best goal-kicking success rate in Super Rugby this season (89%).

    Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
    Hurricanes Beauden Barrett (37) Julian Savea (2) Julian Savea (172) Brad Shields (37)
    Blues Ihaia West (43) Jerome Kaino (2) Lolagi Visinia (325) Jerome Kaino (28)

    Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
    Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.

    Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan/Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
    Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao/Sam Prattley, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park/Bryn Hall, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Moala.

    Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

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    Simon Borchardt