‘Canes keep changes to a minimum

The Hurricanes have made just two changes to their line-up to take on the Brumbies in the much anticipated Super 14 encounter at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday.

Nili Latu comes into the team in place of Serge Lilo at openside flanker, who injured his left knee against the Blues. Latu, who celebrated his 25th birthday during this week, earns his second start for the Hurricanes, after playing against the Reds in round one.

At hooker, Mahonri Schwalger replaces Tone Kopelani for his Hurricanes starting debut, in a straight swap off the bench. Hayden Hopgood comes into the playing 22 as loose forward cover, for his second cap on the bench.

Nothing separates the Hurricanes and the Brumbies on the Super 14 points table after three rounds, both with two wins and nine points and in equal third. While the Hurricanes are coming off a one-point win against the Blues, the Brumbies edged out the Reds in Brisbane 6-3 last Saturday – the lowest scoring Super rugby match ever.

These tight results also mirrored narrow scorelines across the Super 14 in round three. The average winning margin across all seven matches last weekend was just four points, and the Sharks’ seven-point margin of victory over the Highlanders was the widest.

Despite this narrow pattern of competition, Hurricanes v Brumbies matches have traditionally been high scoring affairs. An average of 57 points have been scored cumulatively between both teams in the twelve previous matches between the sides, reflecting the wide-ranging attacking style of both franchises.

A cumulative total of 60 points or more has been scored in six matches between the Hurricanes and the Brumbies. 86 points were scored when they last met in Wellington in 2005, the Hurricanes winning 49-35. The Hurricanes backs scored all seven tries against the Brumbies two years ago, including a hat trick to left wing Ma’a Nonu.

In all, the Hurricanes have scored 35 tries against the Brumbies, 32 of which have been scored through the backs. Last year the Brumbies won this corresponding match 21-16 in Canberra, Stirling Mortlock and George Gregan crossing the try line for the home team.

While Mortlock will be absent for Friday’s match, the Brumbies will field an experienced lineup, four players with over 80 Super rugby caps, including three centurions.

These are George Gregan (126 caps), Stephen Larkham (109), Jeremy Paul (102) and George Smith (84).

Hurricanes halfback Alby Mathewson’s duel with Gregan will be much anticipated, the younger Mathewson hoping to show the elder statesman plenty of new tricks after a lightning start to Super 14 rugby.

Hurricanes first five-eighth (fly-half) Jimmy Gopperth, who scored his 250th Super rugby point against the Blues in his 30th match, lines up against Larkham, while Schwalger and Latu oppose Paul and Smith at hooker and openside.

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Tana Umaga (c), 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Ma’a Nonu, 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 Tony Penn, 18 Bradley Mika, 19 Hayden Hopgood, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 David Smith, 22 Shannon Paku

Date: Friday 25 February
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Willie Roos (South Africa), Matt Stanish (New Zealand)
Television match official: Gary Wise (New Zealand)

365 Digital

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