Containing Julian Savea and the rest of the Hurricanes backline will be the Waratahs' greatest challenge in Wellington on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Canes have been in blistering form this season, securing a franchise record equalling seven straight victories, while the Waratahs have blown hot and cold with a number of indifferent performances. However, the team from Sydney has had the upper hand in this fixture, winning five of the last seven meetings.
For all their attacking prowess, the Waratahs have been inept defensively, conceding four tries on four occasions in 2015. And with scrumhalf Nick Phipps confirming they'll stick with the 'have a go mentality', meaning all-out attack, the stage may be set for Savea to continue his rich try-scoring form against the title holders. He scored a double against the Waratahs in 2012, repeated the feat in 2013 and touched down in a losing cause in 2014.
In stark contrast, the Hurricanes' magical attacking play is complimented by a well-structured defensive system, as was evident in their 25-20 win over the Stormers a fortnight ago. They've conceded only eight tries this year and scored 22, the second most after the Crusaders with 25.
However, the Waratahs are no easy beats and if they can strike the right balance between attack and defence on Saturday and halt the Hurricanes, they will improve their hopes of defending their title.
Canes coach Chris Boyd has made one injury-enforced change to the Hurricanes starting XV, with Ardie Savea replacing Victor Vito.
For the Waratahs, wing Peter Betham (for Taqele Naiyaravoro), outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (for Matt Carraro) and flank Pat McCutcheon (for Jacques Potgieter) all earn a spot in the run-on side.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 10, Waratahs 9
In Wellington: Hurricanes 7, Waratahs 2
STATS AND FACTS
– A losing bonus-point has been netted in just one of the last seven meetings between the sides.
– The Waratahs have won five of those seven matches.
– The last five meetings between the sides have all seen 45-plus points in total and an average of 56 per game.
– The Hurricanes have equalled their best ever run of form in this competition (sevens wins). Four of those wins have come via a margin of a converted try or less.
– The Tahs have produced fewer kicks from hand per game (13.7) than any other team, while the Hurricanes have been the beneficiaries from from the fewest kicks from hand from their opponents; an average of 14.9.
– Only the Hurricanes (nine) have scored more last-quarter tries than the Waratahs (seven).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (72)||Julian Savea (5)||Julian Savea (472)||Brad Shields (86)|
|Waratahs||Bernard Foley (76)||Taqele Naiyaravoro, Rob Horne (3)||Israel Folau (746)||Michael Hooper (83)|
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 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Pat McCutcheon, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson. Subs (two to be omitted): 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Stephen Hoiles, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 David Horwitz, 25 Jed Holloway
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images