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Preview: Blues v Hurricanes

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Friday, February 12, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Both look promising in 2010 – the Hurricanes more so - but it's time to put some decent winning streaks together.

VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Friday February 12, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 14 – Blues 9, Hurricanes 4, drawn 1.

LAST TIME:
May 1, 2009 (Wellington) – Hurricanes 45-27 Blues.

LAST AT VENUE: These teams have not met at Albany before.

WALKING WOUNDED: Ali Williams never even made it to the start line this year before suffering a recurrence of his Achilles trouble that looks likely to keep him out for the season. As well as Williams, the North Harbour trio of George Pisi, Anthony Tuitavake and Luke McAlister were unavailable due to injury. The Hurricanes named a predictable lineup, with the most obvious change the naming of Andrew Hore as new skipper after Rodney So'oialo voluntarily stepped down from the post.

FORM: The Blues won two out of three pre-season matches including one against the Hurricanes on 23 January. They then beat the Chiefs and lost to the Crusaders. The Hurricanes beat the Brumbies and Chiefs after that loss to the Blues; as is normal in pre-season matches very little of what happened will be much use for tipping this game.

WHO'S HOT: Most early interest will focus on the Blues inside back lineup and how Pat Lam will get best value from Alby Mathewson, Stephen Brett and McAlister. Anthony Boric will want a big campaign to prove his ranking in the top echelon of New Zealand locks is deserved and Jerome Kaino, as one of the Blues' senior players, will be asked for consistently high-quality performances. A lot of Hurricanes who have played some international rugby will be key men in 2010, with now-recovered lock Bryn Evans, flanker Scott Waldrom, midfielder Tamati Ellison and fullback Cory Jane among those expected to deliver on a weekly basis. Piri Weepu, after several seasons of being flicked between halfback and first-five, should be able to settle into the No 9 jersey which should allow him to simply get on with playing quality football.

WE THINK: You hear it every year – these are potentially good sides but for the best part of a decade that's as far as it's gone. If the Hurricanes are going to win a crown anytime soon 2010 may have to be the year or the chance could be lost for another five. We think the Hurricanes should be good enough to win but, as is normal with early-season calls, we'll only go for a narrow margin, something around the 8-10 point range.

TEAMS:

Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Paul Williams.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 John Schwalger. Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Karl Lowe, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 David Smith.REFEREE: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)