Halfbacks hold key in Melbourne

The battle between Nic Stirzaker and TJ Perenara could decide the outcome of Friday's match between the Rebels and Hurricanes. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.

The Hurricanes have not been their flashy selves this season, but big-name players have dished up big plays on most occasions to bail their team out. Meanwhile, the Rebels are punching well above their weight in 2016 and sit just outside the playoff zone in the Australasian group. 

The Canes looked to be in a spot of bother last weekend when the free-running Jaguares took an early 12-7 lead in Wellington. But despite the team not firing on all cylinders, Perenara's acute awareness and evaluation of the match situation sparked them to life.

The 24-year-old cracked open the Jaguares defence with a number of searing runs, but his vision was best displayed when he broke away from inside opposition territory and, spotting Julian Savea on his outside, nudged a well-weighted grubber to set up the winger's second try of the game.

Following tours to South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand, the Rebels beat the Waratahs 21-17 in Sydney before enjoying a well-deserved bye last week.

The Hurricanes boast a 75% win record against the Rebels, whose only victory against the Wellington-based side came in their first ever meeting five years ago. Nevertheless, both teams have achieved four wins from six games in 2016, which should balance the scales for this contest. 

However, if the Rebels are to pocket a rare win on Friday, or at least run the Canes – who've never won by fewer than 10 points – close, captain Stirzaker will have to disrupt and unsettle Perenara's quick service and close him down in defence in order to stall the visitors' destructive attack.

Rebels coach Tony McGahan has named an unchanged lineup, while his counterpart Chris Boyd has rejigged his backline. Jason Woodward returns to fullback with Cory Jane moving back to the right wing. In the midfield, Vince Aso and Matt Proctor replace Ngani Laumape and Willis Halaholo respectively.  

Overall: Hurricanes 3, Rebels 1
In Melbourne: Rebels 1, Hurricanes 1

– The Hurricanes have won their last three matches against the Rebels, their only loss coming in their first ever encounter with the Melbourne side.
– The four matches between these teams in Super Rugby have seen an average winning margin of 23 points.
– The Hurricanes have now scored 40-plus points in three consecutive matches for the first time since 1997. Never before have they scored 40-plus in four successive games.
– The Rebels have seen their match-day opponents record a 93% kick success rate so far this season; no other team in the competition has faced such accurate goal-kicking from their opposition.
– The Hurricanes have scored five tries after seven or more phases in possession this season; no team has scored more.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Rebels Jack Debreczeni (57) Ben Meehan (3) Dom Shipperley (278) Sean McMahon (65)
Hurricanes Beauden Barrett (72) TJ Perenara (4) Julian Savea (252) Ardie Savea (63)

Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.

Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Sefu Naivalu.

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 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes.

Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Tony Lambourn, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Otere Black, 23 Ngani Laumape.

Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)

Assistant referees: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)

TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)

Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

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