The champions will be looking to make it two wins out of two in this year’s Super Rugby tournament when they host the Rebels on Saturday.
After putting the Sunwolves to the sword in a comprehensive fashion last week the ‘Canes showed they haven’t lost a step in the off-season.
They achieved that 83-17 victory without the services of Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles, while Nehe Milner-Skudder was nursing an injury. Having that star trio return to the starting XV is therefore an added injection of quality that will no doubt worry the visiting Rebels.
Speaking of the Australian side, they were thumped in their opener at home to the Blues, going down 56-18 in the first game of the season. It was a worrying performance, especially defensively, and that is definitely a concern for their fans as they face a lethal ‘Canes side.
It’s fair to say all the signs point to a home victory, not least because the Hurricanes have won each of their last six fixtures at home, and have conceded just 12 points across their last three home games. Furthermore they have won all but one of the five previous encounters between these teams, last losing to the Melbourne franchise in their first ever encounter in 2011, with past form definitely on their side.
One positive for the Rebels to take onto the Westpac Stadium turf is that last year they won four games away from home, the equal most of any Australian team alongside the Brumbies and Waratahs. To build on that record though they must drastically improve from last Thursday.
New signings they hoped would make an immediate impact were contained while the late withdrawal due to injury of centre Mitch Inman meant an unwanted reshuffle that possibly affected their confidence. But he is back this week with boss Tony McGahan eager to launch a response.
“There’s no bigger challenge in Super Rugby right now than the defending champions in Wellington but we’ve prepared well and the return of key players will provide some much-needed experience and firepower,” he said. “We learnt some good lessons in round one that we’ve taken away so our attention has been on fixing up those key areas at training this week or else good sides will continue to punish our mistakes.”
Fair warning that the ‘Canes – a very good side – will hurt them if they have not fixed the issues. If they haven’t, it’ll be a long night.
The last time these teams met: It was the soon-to-be champions who got the win in Round 8 last year, running out 38-13 victors in Melbourne thanks to scores from Victor Vito, Cory Jane, Beauden Barrett (2), Jason Woodward and Ardie Savea. The Rebels had taken an early lead when Dom Shipperley crossed after 10 minutes but from then on it was cruise control for the ‘Canes as Barrett led them to a bonus-point success.
Players to watch: Back on the Super Rugby field at last, Nehe Milner-Skudder starts at full-back for the Hurricanes. He lit up this very competition in 2015 before going global at the Rugby World Cup. But then injury struck and after a long road to recovery, the excitement machine returns to the yellow and black jersey this week. He boasts electric feet that unlocks defences at will. The Rebels must be wary.
Despite a disappointing showing against the Blues, fly-half Jackson Garden-Bachop has been given another opportunity to impress this week. Playing at Westpac Stadium should be no issue for the Wellington player but it promises to be a real test going up against Beauden Barrett and company. Losing Nic Stirzaker to injury early on didn’t help last week’s showing so a good start will do wonders for their confidence.
Team news: Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett and Nehe Milner-Skudder have been named to start the Hurricanes first home game of the season. The trio are among four personnel changes to the Hurricanes XV that ran out against the Sunwolves in round one, the other being the elevation of Reed Prinsep to number eight in place of the injured Blade Thomson. Ricky Riccitelli, Otere Black and Jordie Barrett drop to the bench.
Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made three changes to the team with Marika Koroibete set for his Super Rugby bow, along with the return of James Hanson and Mitch Inman to the starting side. Koroibete will make his first appearance in Rebels colours on the right wing after a knee injury sidelined the Rugby League convert in pre-season. Wallaby Hanson returns to action after missing the first game due to injury.
Form: It was an ideal start to the season for the Hurricanes as they breezed past the Sunwolves 83-17 last weekend. Despite resting Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles, they were too good for their hosts as Ardie Savea (2), Vince Aso (2), Ricky Riccitelli, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Ngani Laumape, Blade Thomson, Michael Fatialofa (2), Brad Shields and Wes Goosen all got tries in a comfortable opening victory in Tokyo.
The Rebels, in contrast, were on the receiving end of a hammering at home to the Blues, who picked up a 58-16 success in the opening match of the season. Blues centre Rieko Ioane shone with three tries, with the Rebels’ tries coming from Nic Stirzaker and Jackson Garden-Bachop.
Prediction: A fifth successive win over the Rebels looks on the cards for the champions in Wellington on Saturday. Hurricanes by 25 points.
2016: Hurricanes won 38-13 in Melbourne
2015: Hurricanes won 36-12 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 25-15 in Melbourne
2012: Hurricanes won 66-24 in Wellington
2011: Rebels won 42-25 in Melbourne
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ben May, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Otere Black, 23 Jordie Barrett
Rebels: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Ben Volavola
Date: Saturday, March 4
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 17:15 local (04:15 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: William Houston (Australia), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)