Saturday's match against the Chiefs in Wellington will show how good the Hurricanes really are, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Since losing their first two matches, to the Brumbies and Highlanders, the Hurricanes have won five in a row: against the Blues, Force, Kings, Jaguares and Rebels. However, those first three wins were achieved against teams who now sit at the bottom of their respective conferences. The Jaguares and Rebels provide a tougher test, but neither currently occupy a playoff spot.
So, while the Canes have been on an upward curve over the past month and a half, we'll have a better idea of how much progress they've made after Saturday's match. The Chiefs are top of the New Zealand conference and Australasian group, with only that home loss against the Lions blotting their copy book. Their 48-23 win against the Brumbies in Canberra two weeks ago was particularly impressive, and although they weren't as good against the Blues in Hamilton last weekend, they still claimed a 29-23 win and the four log points.
SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats show how dominant the Chiefs have been this season with ball in hand. They have scored the most tries (39) and made the most running metres (3,795), while making the second most clean breaks (104) and offloads (99).
Fullback Damian McKenzie has led that attacking assault. After round eight, the 20-year-old had scored the most tries in the tournament (seven), beaten the most defenders (33) and made the second most running metres (547). The Hurricanes will be eager to shut him down on Saturday.
However, the Chiefs will be without another one of their big attacking weapons, winger James Lowe, who has been ruled out of the match with a shoulder injury and replaced by Sam McNicol. In other changes to the backline, Toni Pulu and Charlie Ngatai return from injury to start on the right wing and at inside centre respectively. There are three changes to the pack, with Tom Sanders (blindside flank), Michael Allardice (No 4 lock) and Rhys Marshall (hooker) all starting.
The Hurricanes have made just one change, with Blade Thomson returning from injury to start in the second row.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 14, Chiefs 11, Draw 1
In Wellington: Hurricanes 9, Chiefs 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 10 home matches against the Chiefs, with the Chiefs’ only victory in that run coming in a 17-12 tussle in round 14, 2013.
– The Hurricanes have won their last five matches; the last time they recorded more consecutive victories was when they won seven on the bounce at the start of the 2015 season.
– The Chiefs have also won their last five matches, their longest streak since winning six in a row across the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, including their final win against the Brumbies in 2013.
– The Chiefs have scored 98 points in the final quarter of matches so far this season, the most of any team, and are just two points away from becoming the first team this season to score 100 points in any single quarter of matches.
– Aaron Cruden has assisted nine tries so far this season, three more than any other player in the competition and the only player to average more than one assist per game.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (90)||TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett (4)||Julian Savea (383)||Ardie Savea (80)|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (112)||Damian McKenzie (7)||James Lowe (594)||Sam Cane (73)|
Hurricanes – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Red Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 James Marshall.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Sam McNicol, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Glen Fisiiahi.
Referee – Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees – Nick Briant (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO – Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images