Hurricanes flank Brad Shields will challenge the Highlanders in several areas of the game in Dunedin on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
In years gone by it's been the Hurricanes backs who have hogged the headlines, but in 2015 their pack has been receiving all the plaudits. Under forwards coach John Plumtree, the Canes forwards have more than matched their opponents up front to achieve the joint-best success rate at scrum time (94%).
The Canes' defence now also matches their attack, and their tackle success rate of 90% is the best in the tournament. Shields has led that effort, making 44 tackles in four matches.
The blindside flanker has also done well at the lineout – winning six of his team's throws and stealing three of the oppositions' – made four turnovers on the ground, and earned 116 running metres from 28 carries.
The 23-year-old will be one of his side's key men on Friday as they look to win their fifth consecutive match and stay at the top of the combined log.
They will be up against a confident Highlanders team that has already claimed two big scalps this season in the Chiefs (in Hamilton) and Waratahs (in Dunedin).
The two sides have been evenly matched over the years (see head to head stats below), and Friday's match under the Otago Stadium roof should provide another close contest.
The Hurricanes have made three changes to their starting lineup for the match, with Cory Jane back on the wing after being rested against the Blues, Jeremy Thrush returning to the second row and Motu Matu'u starting at hooker, because of Dane Coles' elbow injury.
Meanwhile, injuries have forced Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph to rejig his pack, with Dan Pryor becoming the fourth player in five games to start at openside flank. In the front row, South African prop Ross Geldenhuys's thumb fracture sees Josh Hohneck move from loosehead prop to tighthead, with Brendon Edmonds wearing the No 1 jersey.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Highlanders 12, Hurricanes 12
In Dunedin: Highlanders 6, Hurricanes 6
STATS AND FACTS
– The last five Highlanders games have been settled by seven points or fewer with the Dunedin-based side winning the last three. Before this run of five games, the Highlanders had suffered consecutive defeats by over 25 points.
– The Hurricanes have won their opening four games for the first time in Super Rugby; the Wellington-based team is aiming to win five in a row for the first time since 2003 when they won seven on the bounce.
– The Highlanders have the best lineout success rate this season (91%), however they have thrown fewer lineouts than any other team so far this season (34).
– The Dunedin-based side has spent less time in possession than any other team this season, averaging just 12 minutes and 54 seconds on the ball per game.
– The Hurricanes have the best tackling success rate this season (90%) and have completed more tackles on average than any other team so far in Super Rugby.
– The Hurricanes also boast the joint-best scrum success rate this season, winning 94% on their own put-in so far.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (25)||Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo (2)||Waisake Naholo (303)||Elliot Dixon (39)|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (47)||Julian Savea (4)||Julian Savea (301)||Brad Shields (44)|
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Leniert-Brown, 18 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 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 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs:16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ben May, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images