Hurricanes v Blues preview

Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 19.35 (06.35 GMT)


The Hurricanes, who in all honesty have been a bit disappointing without their All Black stars in the first two rounds, will play their first home match of the season. They will certainly need to raise their game against a Blues team that has been impressive from the outset.


A glance at the two team sheets, and the selection changes this week, and it is obvious the two sides are planning for an expansive game.


Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has moved Ma’a Nonu from wing to second five-eighths (number 12), allowing the electrifying David Smith to play on the left wing – where he will face many of his Auckland provincial teammates.


And with Tana Umaga captaining the side from outside centre – in the absence of Conrad Smith, who is still recovering from the eye injury he sustained in round one against the Reds – the Hurricanes have a very formidable midfield combination in Umaga (also playing his 300th first class match) and Nonu.


It is a pairing that wrecked havoc in recent years, but this will be the first time this year they will pair up.


And with the in-form Hosea Gear on the other wing, the ‘Canes will have enough attacking flair to match the mighty Blues step-for-step.


The Blues have Anthony Tuitavake and Doug Howlett (on the wings), along with Isaia Toeava and Luke McAlister in the midfield, to oppose the Hurricanes back force.


It could be one of the most intriguing battles of the weekend.


But all that speed out wide will be meaningless if the respective teams’ forward packs can’t win quality first phase possession.


Prediction: The Hurricanes are likely to be in better shape at home, but somehow the Blues have looked the more settled unit and should take the spoils. The Blues by about 10 points.


Teams:


Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Tana Umaga (c), 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Luke Andrews, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Paul Tito, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Tone Kopelani, 1 John Schwalger
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Brad Mika, 19 Nili Latu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tamati Ellison, 22 Shannon Paku


Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Anthony Tuitavake, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 David Gibson, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Angus Macdonald, 5 Troy Flavell (captain), 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau
Replacements: 16 Chris Heard, 17 Nick White, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Steve Devine, 21 Sam Tuitupou, 22 Ben Atiga


Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Christie du Preez (South Africa), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Television match official: Gary Wise (New Zealand)

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