Preview: Blues v Hurricanes
Thursday, April 11, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
WALKING WOUNDED: The Blues will only be without George Moala (suspension) for this encounter. Tim Perry, however, has been dropped on form in favour of Tom McCartney at loosehead.
Most of the talk has been around Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett's decision to switch All Black first-five Beauden Barrett to fullback.
He will make way for Samoan international Tusi Pisi in the No 10 jersey while regular fullback Andre Taylor drops to the bench for the second time this year.
Ben Franks has been bracketed at loosehead with Reggie Goods.
The Blues returned to winning ways last week, albeit over a winless Highlanders outfit, after dropping three on the trot.
Sir John Kirwan has placed huge emphasis on winning the set pieces after his men were taught a tough lesson in scrumming against the Highlanders.
The upside is that backs Piri Weepu and Rene Ranger are in scintillating form. With the latter moving to the wing in place of Moala, look for the Hurricanes flanks to be placed under immense pressure.
The Hurricanes suffered two first-up losses but have not put a foot wrong since. On a hot streak of four wins, they have scored 87 points in their last two matches alone.
However, defence has been a constant issue and the introduction of Pisi at first-five is thought to be a ploy to bolster the front line.
The Blues will be curious to see how Pisi and Barrett will be utilised in this one.
Against the Chiefs a fortnight ago, the Aucklanders struggled to contain the dual play-making threat of Gareth Anscombe and Aaron Cruden. The Hurricanes are shaping to launch a similar style of attack.
We would be comfortable saying the Blues will dominate the breakdown but the arrival of Wellington rookie Ardie Savea has ensured there will be a fiery contest.
His older brother Julian was reasonably well contained when the Blues triumphed in round two, but having produced a few more breathtaking tries since then, we're expecting fireworks when he meets his opposite Frank Halai.
It is shaping up to be a fairly even contest and we expect it to be close.
However, if the Blues can execute their set piece cleanly, Ranger and company will likely wreak havoc across the park.
It's a tough one to call but we are tipping the Blues to get on top here and climb into second place in the New Zealand conference.
Blues by 6.
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