Preview: Hurricanes v Waratahs

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Thursday, April 16, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 18 April at 4.30pm
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Played: 19, 1996-2014 (DNP 2011)
Hurricanes wins: 10
Waratahs wins: 9

Hurricanes points: 464
Waratahs points: 477

Last match: Waratahs 39 Hurricanes 30, 03.05.14 in Sydney


Form: The Hurricanes are top of the table despite taking a round nine bye, and it is difficult to fault the side’s efforts so far, even if their obvious defensive approach can lead to some close scores.

However Chris Boyd’s men, as an attacking and defensive force, rank in the top three of most metrics (in terms of tries and points scored and conceded).

The ‘Canes haven’t had a cake walk, no Investec Super Rugby team does, but despite an early trip to the Republic and Perth, they have a challenging draw ahead with a game against the title holders – ahead of finishing the season with five straight New Zealand Conference matches.

The current trophy holders haven’t had things their own way in 2015, but with four wins from seven matches they remain in calculations even if they are beginning to lose touch with the top six.

Michael Cheika’s side has been interesting this season. They all but refuse to play pragmatic rugby and this insistence on offence has resulted in some teams picking apart their systems.

Coming up against a Hurricanes side that usually would oblige and throw the ball around, the Waratahs are instead faced with a home team that doesn’t really like to do that anymore.

Key players: While the host’s pack has little to prove after doing the business time and time again so far this season, they will be examined by a big Waratahs pack that likes to make their presence felt with ball in hand.

The return of Ardie Savea gives the ‘Canes extra pace of their own around the breakdown area, but the totem for the hosts will be in the second row.

Jeremy Thrush is set to bring up 100 matches on Saturday afternoon, having played the Waratahs in his debut match seven years and 61 days ago. The lock, who will also celebrate his 30th birthday on Sunday, has contributed 45 points during his time in black and yellow, and will become the seventh Hurricane to reach the milestone.

Potentially, first five-eighth Beauden Barrett will also become the top Hurricanes point scorer of all time, needing just 10 points to break the record set by David Holwell in 2006 (676).

Dave Dennis leads a strong Waratahs forward unit that some are suggesting looks less potent than last year, while Kane Douglas a big absence in 2015.

The backline is just class, with recently resigning playmaker Bernard Foley leading proceedings alongside international partner Nick Phipps.

The threats in the rear speak for themselves, and while Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau haven’t been supremely dominant, they are still ranked in the top five when it comes to the competition’s best attacking players.

Squad update: Chris Boyd has named a similar starting side to that which faced the Stormers two weeks ago, with the inclusion of Ardie Savea who returns from a finger injury.

Injury has ruled out Victor Vito and Chris Smylie (both calves), while Blade Thomson (concussion), and Dane Coles (elbow) also remain unavailable.

Test outside-back Adam Ashley-Cooper returns to the Waratahs starting line-up for the first time since round two, while Tolu Latu, Pat McCutcheon and Peter Betham also move into the run on 15.

In preparation for the physical contest, Cheika is expected to play the extra forward on the bench (six-two split) and he will have a wealth of ammunition to bring off the bench including Tatafu Polota-Nau and Jacques Potgieter.