Preview: Hurricanes v Kings

Date published: March 23 2016

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A tough tour for the Kings continues this Friday when they take on last year's finalists the Hurricanes in Wellington.

The South African franchise are the only side without a single point to their name after four rounds, and they already have a points difference of -102 through their three matches so far.

It's a bleak situation, which was expected based on the disruption they faced in the build-up to the start of the season and the quality of their squad. Next week's meeting with the Sunwolves in Port Elizabeth already feels like their best and possibly only chance to secure a win all season.

To be competitive the Kings need major improvements in all departments, but especially defence given they have the worst tackling success rate in the competition at 76.8 percent.

Perhaps of more concern is the Kings' attack. Rock bottom across all categories for clean breaks, carries and defenders beaten, alarmingly the Kings are the only side to fail to crack 1000 metres made so far, on 778, when the next highest figure is the Sunwolves with 1232 metres.

There's little to suggest that the Kings are anywhere near competitive to trouble the Hurricanes, who finally seemed to hit their stride during last week's heavy win over the Force.

Six tries last Friday in Palmerston North propelled Chris Boyd's squad to a monster 41-6 win, with the Hurricanes' running lines and high tempo in attack proving to be too much for the visitors' defence.

Having back captain Dane Coles from injury is a huge boost with the squad still moving on from the loss of a number of veterans, and it also looks as though TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett are starting to find a higher gear.

Only the Blues have made more carries this season and when the Hurricanes' mobile back row start to make metres, and their second row for that matter with Mark Abbott and Blade Thomson – at number eight this week – then Friday's hosts become incredibly difficult to stop.

History is certainly on their side for Friday as well – the Hurricanes have won their last six games against South African opposition, their longest such streak in Super Rugby history. 

Not since the Stormers in Round 11, 2013 has a South African side travelled to New Zealand to play the Hurricanes and come away with a victory.

The last time these teams met: The only previous encounter between these teams was in Round 7, 2013 when the Hurricanes hosted the Kings and defeated them 46-30. A flattering result for the hosts, with the Kings proving to be more competitive than expected, the Hurricanes still outscored the visitors six tries to three.

Players to watch: Following an impressive cameo off the bench last weekend when he played a major role in some of the Hurricanes' late tries, Willis Halaholo gets a start at outside centre. The 25-year-old Southland back rejected offers from overseas to try and make it in Super Rugby and after making an impression last Friday takes over from Vince Aso. Halaholo's footwork combined with the power of Ngani Laumape should give the Hurricanes the right balance in midfield.

One bright spot for the Kings have been the performances of hooker Edgar Marutlulle. Solid ball at the lineout is essential for the Kings to have a chance in Wellington but Marutlulle has also proved to be an effective ball carrier in recent games against the Chiefs and Crusaders. 

Team news: The Hurricanes have made three changes to their starting XV for Friday. Halaholo, Jason Woodward and Michael Fatialofa all come into the starting side after being in the reserves. Halaholo will start at centre with Vince Aso moving to the reserves, Woodward takes Julian Savea’s place on the left wing, and Fatialofa come in at lock for Blade Thomson, who shifts to number eight in place of Victor Vito, who will miss the match with a calf strain.

Kings head coach Deon Davids has made five changes. Up front Sti Sithole moves up from the bench to replace Schalk Ferreira. Martin Ferreira moves out of the team to make way for Marutlulle. CJ Velleman also comes off the bench to take the place of Chris Cloete. Stefan Willemse joins the team alongside Velleman at flank, replacing Thembelani Bholi. One change in the backs sees Ntando Kebe return to the starting lineup with Kevin Luiters.

Form: One heavy loss (to the Brumbies) and a narrow loss (to the Highlanders) have been followed by wins over the Blues and Force for the Hurricanes, who only trail New Zealand Conference leaders the Chiefs by four points despite those two defeats. Through the first four rounds the Kings had a bye in the second week of the tournament, having lost 43-8 to the Sharks on the opening weekend. Strangely similar defeats have followed – 58-24 to the Chiefs and 57-24 to the Crusaders.

Prediction: The Hurricanes are just starting to click and this looks like another chance for Perenara and Barrett to let their side loose for a big win. Hurricanes by 25.

Previous results:

2013: Hurricanes won 46-30 in Wellington

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Ben May, 19 Geoff Cridge, 20 Callum Gibbins,  21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Matt Proctor

Kings: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates (vc), 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ntando Kebe, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 CJ Velleman, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Sti Sithole
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhoudt, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Kevin Luiters, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 JP Du Plessis

Date: Friday, March 25
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant, Kane McBride
TMO: Aaron Paterson

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