Preview: <hash>Hurricanes</hash> v <hash>Rebels</hash>

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Thursday, May 24, 2012    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday May 26 @ 1730

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 1; Hurricanes 0, Rebels 1.

LAST TIME: August 12, 2011 (Melbourne) – Rebels 42-25 Hurricanes.

WALKING WOUNDED: The loss of Cory Jane to an ankle sprain last week was bad news for the Hurricanes, as they lost one of their best and most experienced backs; the injury is likely to keep Jane sidelined until after the June tests. Apart from that, all the Hurricanes changes were optional. The main injury news out of Melbourne this week concerned James O’Connor, who has been sidelined for weeks with a lacerated liver and who will not be back before the competition resumes in July. Luke Jones is back from his suspension and returns to the flank, while Jono Owen gets a start in the front row as Damien Hill made only the two voluntary changes.

Round 9: lost to Crusaders 14-42 (h)
Round 10: lost to Chiefs 14-33 (a)
Round 11: beat Blues 35-19 (h)
Round 12: beat Highlanders 26-20 (a)
Round 13: lost to Brumbies 25-37 (h)

Round 9: lost to Waratahs 21-30 (a)
Round 10: bye
Round 11: lost to Bulls 35-41 (h)
Round 12: beat Crusaders 28-19 (h)
Round 13: beat Force 32-31 (a)

The Hurricanes are still a bit hit and miss which, unless fixed right now, is likely to condemn them to a finishing spot just out of the top six. They had plenty of chances to put the Brumbies away but moderate goal-kicking (two from six) and a snooze immediately after they had gone 25-16 ahead let the Brumbies back into the match. From that point it was one-way traffic, and it was headed towards the Hurricanes line. The first hour said a fair bit about the Hurricanes – they can trouble the best and do so for long periods – while the final quarter also highlighted the team’s shortcomings.

The Rebels began at Perth as if they hadn’t stopped from their win over the Crusaders, putting a clinical try on the board within moments of the start. Three more followed by halftime, when they had established a good lead, but then they froze as they found themselves in the unaccustomed position of being a favourite who had the winning of the match. The Force climbed back into it and eventually took the lead, only for Kurtley Beale to provide the decisive score with a couple of minutes to play. The Rebels’ improvement can be gathered from the fact they have taken 15 points in the last month and moved ahead of the Waratahs in the Australian conference; celebrating Nic Henderson’s 100th Super rugby appearance this week will only act as a further spur to the team.

After weeks of seeing their scrum pushed around, the Hurricanes coaches must be very impressed with Reg Goodes and his work in the front row even if he’s on the bench this week. Although a young player, Goodes has power and technique that are serving him well at the moment, while he also makes a good impact around the field. Victor Vito made telling contributions in several areas last week, taking the ball up strongly, scoring a clever try and proving a valuable lineout man. He also defended well, but gaps appeared further out that hurt his team. TJ Perenara had another excellent match which he capped with two well-taken tries, but it was his general work that impressed most. He is quick and decisive, making his clearances in timely fashion and hitting the right guy, and there is nothing to complain about in either his kicking or his defensive work.

Although he made a strong start to his Super rugby career, Cadeyrn Neville was still talked about as the former AIS rower who had only been playing rugby for a short time. After another fine match at Perth, which was highlighted by two good tries, his ability as a rugby player started to command more attention. It’s certain that we haven’t seen the best of the big bloke yet. Kurtley Beale plays such an important role for the Rebels that it is hard to imagine where they’d be without him. He directs traffic nicely, makes timely breaks, kicks for goal accurately and gives the whole show an air of composure. That benefits winger Cooper Vuna, who gets plenty of play as a result. Vuna is a strong runner and clever finisher, although he is still developing his all-round game. Despite that, a man who turns chances into five points more often than not is welcome in any side.

WE THINK: Even if it’s not as bad as in the old days, you still take the Hurricanes on trust a bit. They’re capable of very good performances, as the Sharks found out, and ordinary ones, as the Cheetahs and Crusaders could affirm. The Rebels, on the other hand, began in ordinary fashion but have just put together their best month as a Super rugby team. It promises to be an interesting, and likely high-scoring affair, but we’ll trust the Hurricanes to get a narrow win.

Hurricanes: 1. Ben May, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Victor Vito, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith (capt), 14. Alipate Leiua, 15. Andre Taylor.

Replacements: 16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. James Broadhurst, 19. Brad Shields, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Tusi Pisi, 22. Jayden Hayward.

Rebels: 1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Tim Davidson, 8. Gareth Delve (capt), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Cooper Vuna, 12. Lachlan Mitchell, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Mark Gerrard, 15. Julian Huxley.

Replacements: 16. Adam Freier, 17. Rodney Blake, 18. Alistair Campbell, 19. Tom Chamberlain, 20. Richard Kingi, 21. Stirling Mortlock, 22. James Hilgendorf.

REFEREE: Jonathon White (NZ)