Preview: Bulls v Hurricanes
Friday, February 20, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Saturday, February 21, 06:10 (NZDT)
H2H: Played 16, Bulls 8, Hurricanes 8
Last time they met: Hurricanes 25 Bulls 20, 05.04.14 in Napier
Squad update: The Bulls welcome back number eight Pierre Spies, ensuring that alongside Victor Matfield and Adriaan Strauss, the home team boasts three Investec Super Rugby centurions.
Spies takes the captain’s armband off Matfield, while replacing Arno Botha in the back row, one of four changes to the run on side.
Ma’a Nonu makes his return to the Hurricanes starting team, his first match for the capital based outfit since 2011, and 145th Super Rugby fixture overall.
His presence ensures that the visitors boast current All Blacks backs from nine to 14.
Callum Gibbins will make his Hurricanes debut at openside flanker, partnering Brad Shield and Blade Thomson in the loose forwards – while Victor Vito and Ardie Savea lurk in the reserves.
The visitors have a rare record in Pretoria, winning their last two and four from eight overall in what is traditionally the toughest destination in the competition.
Form: The Bulls were overrun by a Stormers team that applied major pressure up front, something that coach Frans Ludeke addressed throughout the week.
Deon Stegmann’s opening try in the fourth minute was well received but from there the three-time winners had to rely on the boot of Handre Pollard to keep in touch with the troops from Cape Town.
While the opening round game in Loftus was something of a kicking duel, the Hurricanes will be confident if such conditions are applied again considering Beauden Barrett’s touch from the tee.
A valuable away win, in the Republic no less, was an ideal beginning to Chris Boyd’s reign as Hurricanes coach.
Key players: The men out wide will have a spotlight on them considering Barrett in particular is in an audition of the highest order – pushing his claims to be the All Blacks starting ten.
The reunion of Nonu and Smith is perhaps the most decorated in world rugby, while Julian Savea and Cory Jane are a nice combination that brings explosive power and that rare deftness that has defined his ownership of the right wing.
Up front though the pack will need to lay platforms against a Bulls side that would have been poked and prodded after their failure to quell the Stormers.
Reggies Goodes, Dane Coles and Ben Franks form a front row more potent than the Hurricanes are traditional reliant on, while Mark Abbott and James Broadhurst provide plenty of ballast.
However the latter two are against one of the great vintages of all time in Victor Matfield, who was quiet by his god like standards last week.
His partnership with the inexperienced Jacques du Plessis will be key, while Deon Stegmann and Lappies Labuschagne will be tasked with putting the brakes on the fast and mobile Hurricanes back row.
The back division will give up some size to their counterparts in yellow, but would back themselves to hold the edge in the speed stakes.
Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht and Jan Serfontein have shoes fast enough to make the travellers pay if their tackling isn’t up to scratch.
However early evidence in Johannesburg indicates that this Hurricanes side brings a legitimate defensive approach that will aid them in winning matches.
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