Preview: Blues v Hurricanes
Friday, May 22, 2015 Getty Images
Eden Park, Auckland
Played: 24, 1996-2015
Blues wins: 14
Hurricanes wins: 9
Blues points: 686
Hurricanes points: 578
Last match: Hurricanes 30 Blues 23, 13.03.15 in Palmerston North
Round 15 teams:
Form: Late season revival might be exaggerating things, but the Blues three wins from their last six matches, unbeaten at Eden Park, is enough to worry any incoming visitor.
The Chiefs and Highlanders will be sending thank you cards to Sir John Kirwan if the Blues can become just the second team in 2015 to defeat the Hurricanes.
With 14 wins in 24 matches over the rivalry, the hosts also boast a 5-4 advantage over the ‘Canes since 2011 - but this is as formidable a team from Wellington as the Blues have ever hosted.
The tourists have an average 28-18 match aggregate over the season, with just one loss: a four-tries-apiece 29-24 game versus the Waratahs.
Other than that, the Hurricanes have been close to perfect, defensively resilient but their attacking prowess is as impressive as always. They have scored 41 tries, conceded just 22, have a +119 points advantage and have a 13 competition lead over any other team (prior to the start of the round).
The big one is victory mathematically guarantees Chris Boyd’s troops their first finals appearance since 2009.
Key players: Hooker James Parsons career continues to develop with the captaincy handed to the front rower with the Blues forward resources depleted.
Akira Ioane will be a key figure, shifted to number eight to cover the double losses of Steven Luatua and Jerome Kaino.
Out wide one will expect some fireworks, the Blues backline is looking better by the week, while Ihaia West, George Moala and Jamison Gibson-Park are making their presence felt.
The Hurricanes have an adjusted front row, but their real power has been coming from their back five – Jeremy Thrush has been one of the busiest tacklers in the competition, while Ardie Savea, Blade Thomson and James Broadhurst have matched all comers.
The backs will be without usual captain Conrad Smith, so expect Ma’a Nonu to shoulder extra responsibility with Rey Lee-Lo and James Marshall playing either side of the All Blacks midfielder.
The outside backs will feel their form is beyond their Blues counterparts, with Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Cory West among the best rear threes in Investec Super Rugby.
Squad update: Parsons, the North Harbour skipper takes the captain’s armband after injuries to previous leaders Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua.
He forms a new front row with Sam Prattley, receiving his first start of the year, and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who will play his 27th game for the Blues.
New Zealand Under-20s representatives Blake Gibson and the inform Akira Ioane will pair up in the loose forwards, with the outstanding Brendon O’Connor, before the pair joins the New Zealand team that leaves next week to contest the world cup in Italy.
Chris Eves and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen will take on the propping duties for the ‘Canes in place of Reggie Goodes and Ben Franks (Achilles), with Ben May and debutant Tolu Fahamokioa coming into the reserves.
The absence of Conrad Smith gives Rey Lee-Lo a start at centre, while Willis Halaholo comes onto the bench in what is his first appearance for the Hurricanes this season.
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