The two No 10s could determine who wins Saturday's match between the Hurricanes and Chiefs in Wellington, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Both teams have lost their All Blacks flyhalves to knee injuries, with Beauden Barrett set to spend another three weeks on the sidelines and Aaron Cruden out for the rest of the season.
Barrett's replacement, James Marshall, had a decent game against the Sharks last weekend, but failed to make a clean break, didn't kick enough for territory and missed three out of eight attempts at goal. The 26-year-old didn't play much for the Canes last season and started at fullback for Taranaki in the New Zealand Cup, so it may take time for him to settle into the No 10 jersey.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have opted to start talented 20-year-old Damian McKenzie at flyhalf for this match, with Andrew Horrell, who was at 10 during the shock loss to the Rebels in Melbourne two weeks ago, dropping to the bench. McKenzie represented New Zealand at last year's Junior World Championship and has 10 Vodacom Super Rugby caps. His older brother, Marty, started at flyhalf against the Force three weeks ago, but has since fallen out of the match 23.
Despite their lack of experience in the position at this level, Marshall and McKenzie will be expected to run the show for their teams on Saturday and ensure their dangerous backlines get going.
Marshall will benefit from the return of All Blacks scrumhalf TJ Perenara, who was rested last weekend along with winger Julian Savea. In other changes to the lineup that beat the Sharks, Reggie Goodes and Brad Shields will start at loosehead prop and blindside flank respectively.
The Chiefs have made three changes, with McKenzie, winger Hosea Gear and lock Michael Allardice all starting.
The Hurricanes are top of the combined log after 13 rounds, with 48 log points, 10 more than the Chiefs, who had a bye last weekend. A win on Saturday would wrap up the New Zealand conference for the Canes, and all but ensure they finish top of the combined log.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 12, Chiefs 11, Draw 1
In Wellington: Hurricanes 8, Chiefs 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Hurricanes have won just two of their last seven against the Chiefs (drawn one, lost four).
– However, the Canes have won eight of their last nine at home against the men from Waikato.
– Six of the Hurricanes’ 10 wins this season have been by eight points or under. The Chiefs’ three defeats have come from a combined margin of five points (three, one, one).
– Only Liam Messam (18) has conceded more penalties than Ben Franks (17) this season.
– The Hurricanes have averaged the most defenders beaten (23.2) this year but the Chiefs have forced the lowest tackling success rate from their opponents (83%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (110)||TJ Perenara (7)||Julian Savea (735)||Brad Shields (117)|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (93)||James Lowe (5)||James Lowe (745)||Sam Cane (119)|
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott/Callum Gibbins, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, Otere Black, 22 Rey Lee-Lo.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Bryce Heem.