Ma'a Nonu will look to continue his good form for the table-topping Hurricanes against the Crusaders in Wellington on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The 32-year-old returned to the Hurricanes in 2015 after unsuccessful stints with the Highlanders and Blues, during which time he failed to reproduce his All Blacks form. The inside centre has silenced those critics with several impressive performances this season and seems to enjoy playing under former Sharks coaches Chris Boyd and John Plumtree, which certainly wasn't the case when Mark Hammett was coaching the Canes.
While Nonu has yet to score a try this season, he has been one of his team's biggest attacking threats, making eight clean breaks and beating 22 defenders. He has benefited from the Canes' more structured approach on attack and from playing alongside fellow All Blacks midfielder Conrad Smith.
With the Hurricanes on top of the combined log after eight wins from nine matches, Nonu has a good chance of going on to lift the Vodacom Super Rugby trophy for the first time, in his last season in New Zealand, before joining European champions Toulon.
Having lost their first match of the year in round 10, at home to the Waratahs, the Hurricanes bounced back with a 35-19 win against the Reds in Brisbane last weekend. The Saders are currently ninth on the combined log having ended a two-match losing streak in Christchurch with a 29-15 bonus-point win against the Blues.
While a win in Wellington would bring Todd Blackadder's side right back into play-off contention, the Canes will go into the game as strong favourites, based on their form this season and the fact that they have won the last three meetings between the sides at the Cake Tin.
The Canes have made two changes to their starting lineup, with Nehe Milner-Skudder coming in at fullback and Cory Jane on the right wing. Dane Coles has recovered from an elbow injury and will be on the bench along with Blade Thomson, who has also been sidelined for a while.
Meanwhile, the Saders will be without Richie McCaw, who has been ruled out following a head knock against the Blues. He is replaced at blindside flank by Matt Todd, while Andy Ellis will start at scrumhalf with Mitchell Drummond moving to the bench.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 16, Hurricanes 8, Draws 3
In Wellington: Crusaders 6, Hurricanes 4, Draws 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 11 home matches and have not lost two in a row (in one season) in Wellington since July 2013.
– The Canes have won four of the last five meetings between the sides after previously enduring a run of one win in 11 against the Crusaders (drawn one, lost nine – this discounts the abandoned fixture which was declared a draw in 2011).
– Those four wins have been by a combined margin of 12 points.
– The Crusaders won their last away fixture, however their previous two away wins were each followed by back-to-back away defeats.
– The Hurricanes (94.1%) and Crusaders (94%) rank first and second for scrum success rate this season.
– The Hurricanes (12) and Crusaders (10) have scored the most tries when starting out with the ball inside their own half.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (96)||TJ Perenara (7)||Julian Savea (625)||Brad Shields (101)|
|Crusaders||Dan Carter (69)||Jordan Taufua (6)||Israel Dagg (537)||Matt Todd (87)|
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 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Callum Gibbins, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 James Marshall.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Photo: Marty Melville/Getty Images