The Hurricanes need a big performance from wing Julian Savea against the Blues in Wellington on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
While most of the Canes' returning All Blacks will be brimming with confidence, Savea's form and confidence took a nosedive during the series against Wales.
The 25-year-old was substituted during the first half of the first Test, dropped for the second, and only used as a replacement in the third. The back end of Super Rugby provides an opportunity for the winger to redeem himself, and against a relatively young Blues backline, he must make his presence felt.
With a slender two-point lead over the Highlanders in the fiercely contested New Zealand conference, and away matches against the Waratahs and Crusaders still to come, the Hurricanes should be aiming for a bonus-point win over the Blues, who they beat 23-19 in March.
The Blues have a mathematical chance of progressing to the knockout stage, but will have to get past the Hurricanes or Highlanders to finish fourth in their conference.
Three of the Blues' five internationals – Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi – are back in the starting XV, but Charlie Faumuina and George Moala are injured and could miss the rest of the season.
The Blues boast a winning record in this fixture, but to win at Westpac Stadium on Saturday they will have to shut down Savea and Beauden Barrett and refrain from engaging the Canes in a loose, fast-paced game.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 14, Hurricanes 11, Draw 1
In Wellington: Blues 6, Hurricanes 5, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Hurricanes have won their last three games against the Blues, but have never won four on the bounce against their conference rivals.
– The Hurricanes haven’t lost a home fixture by more than eight points since their first game of the 2013 season against the Blues (34-20).
– Only once in their last 24 Super Rugby fixtures have the Blues lost a game after leading at half-time, though that result came in their round 14 clash against the Crusaders.
– The Hurricanes have conceded only 19 points in the opening halves of their last four games (4.75 per game), including holding the Highlanders to nil in their last fixture.
– Eight of the Blues' 12 games so far this season have been decided by the value of a converted try or less and only one of the four that hasn’t was against a fellow New Zealand opponent.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (134)||Julian Savea (5)||Beauden Barrett (586)||Ardie Savea (120)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (130)||Melani Nanai (4)||Tevita Li (521)||Steven Luatua (92)|
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 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, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Reggie Goodes.
Subs: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves, Loni Uhila, Mark Abbott, Tony Lambourn, Jamison Gibson-Park, Willis Halaholo, Jason Woodward.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai,14 Duffie, 13 Male S’au, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Sione Mafileo, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti/Hoani Matenga, Blake Gibson, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Matt Vaega/Lolagi Visinia.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images