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Preview: Hurricanes v Stormers

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Thursday, April 2, 2015    Getty Images

Friday 3 April at 7.35pm (NZDT)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Played: 16, 1998-2014 (DNP 2011)
Hurricanes wins: 6
Stormers wins: 10

Hurricanes points: 351
Stormers points: 407

Last match: Stormers 19 Hurricanes 18, 28.02.14 in Cape Town


All teams for round 8: http://bit.ly/1CwgoLC

Squad update: The Hurricanes welcome back three All Blacks to the starting XV, with Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Ben Franks returning to the side.

Nehe Milner-Skudder also comes back into the starting line-up at fullback, while second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu brings up a unique milestone.

He becomes the first backline player in history to register 150 Super Rugby matches.

Loose forward Blade Thomson continues to recover from a head knock, while Dane Coles is also unavailable for selection due to the elbow injury he suffered against the Blues.

The visitors welcome back Duane Vermeulen who will assume the Stormers captaincy, as well as the number eight jersey.

The second change, also up front, sees fellow Springbok hardman Eben Etzebeth take over the No.4 jersey from Jean Kleyn, the latter dropping out of the match day squad.

Form: The Hurricanes are on cloud nine, sitting three competition points ahead of any team, winning six from six while boasting some of the leading statistics in the competition.

Tackles made, tackle success, ruck percentage and tries scored are just a taste of the categories the Wellington based outfit lead – while five of their six victories have been away from the capital.

To put their success so far into perspective, last year the Highlanders qualified sixth (ahead of the Hurricanes) with 42 competition points – the ‘Canes currently are just 15 behind this.

Chris Boyd’s squad have a potential 50 competition points still available to them.

The Stormers won their first four matches, which included success in Cape Town and Johannesburg, but lost 19-28 to the Chiefs at Newlands and 21-39 to the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr.

So far, incredibly considering their impressive defensive history, the Stormers have conceded 132 points (7th overall) and 12 tries (5th equal).

However they haven’t lost to the Hurricanes since 2009, winning four straight matches against the Wellington based franchise, and claiming six of the last seven stretching back to 2007.

Key players: The Hurricanes will receive an intense examination up front from the Stormers, and while Dane Coles is a loss, Motu Matu’u won’t take a backward step. Reggies Goodes and Ben Franks have been in good form so the scrum should be solid.

Jeremy Thrush, Victor Vito and Brad Shields have also been in sound touch, contributing to what is the best ruck retention percentage of any Super Rugby team (90).

The return of Barrett and Savea ensures that the home outfit’s backline is essentially at full strength.

Nehe Milner-Skudder is the only player out wide who hasn’t worn an All Blacks jersey, but early season form suggests that it might only be a matter of time before the fullback enters the Test arena.

The Stormers will look to their fearsome tight five to control proceedings, with Etzebeth and Manual Carizza one of the more abrasive second row combinations around town.

Springbok Duane Vermeulen returns, forming a potent back row with Schalk Burger and Siya Kolisi, while tighthead Vincent Koch will examine the Hurricanes scrum.

In the back division, a smallish backline comes up against a blue chip Hurricanes rear division, but Juan de Jongh and Damian de Allende will feel they have the nous to hold out the host’s offence.