PREVIEW: Blues v Hurricanes

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Friday, April 14, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

ROUND 8: Blues v Hurricanes, 7.35pm, Friday 15 April, Eden Park, Auckland

The Blues have to go back to 2014 to remember the taste of victory over the Hurricanes and they face a tough job to change that in 2017. The lamentable record against New Zealand sides has become a millstone for the side. They have two wins from the last five games, both of them against overseas sides (Force 24-15) and Bulls (38-14), both of them at home. The Hurricanes by comparison have lost one of their last four, to the Chiefs 18-26 but with three wins, 41-15 over the Highlanders, 34-15 over the Reds and 38-28 over the Waratahs in their last outing. What is of concern to the Blues is that some of the rugby in those encounters has been sublime, and only a tapering off in execution has prevented scores blowing out even more.

Normally all the pre-game talk is about 'dominating the breakdown area', or 'winning the battle up front'. But just for a change the midfield could prove decisive this time around, that is if the Blues can win, and hold, enough ball to be competitive. Sonny Bill Williams making his first start at second five-eighths with the undoubted talent of Rieko Ioane outside him at centre is a tantalising, if as yet unproven, combination, while against them is one of the form players of the season Ngani Laumape, and Vince Aso, in from the wing where he has been a try-scoring machine for the Hurricanes, but in a position in which he feels comfortable. There could be some fireworks in this contest.

While the Blues are putting their defensive plan in place to cope with the mid-field threat, they need to have a policy to cope with the prospect of dealing with the unorthodox menace the Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie, provide. Some of their play against the Waratahs last week was out of this world and that can only improve with time. It certainly gives the Hurricanes another weapon in their armoury, and the beauty of it is that it is not something that needs to be constantly exposed – they can call on it when needed. That is going to be an issue, not only for the Blues, but for future opponents as well.
Blues: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Scott Scrafton, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Steven Luatua, 9.Augustine Pulu, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Melani Nanai, 12.Sonny Bill Williams, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Jimmy Tupou, 20.Akira Ioane, 21.Billy Guyton, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.George Moala.

Hurricanes: 1.Ben May, 2.Ricky Ricciteli, 3.Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 4.Mark Abbott, 5.Michael Fatialofa, 6.Brad Shields, 7.Callum Gibbins, 8.Ardie Savea, 9.TJ Perenara (c), 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Ngani Laumape, 13.Vince Aso, 14.Wes Goosen, 15.Jordie Barrett.

Reserves: 16.Leni Apisai, 17.Chris Eves, 18.Mike Kainga, 19.Vaea Fifita, 20.Reed Prinsep, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22.Otere Black, 23.Cory Jane.