Preview: Hurricanes v Stormers

Date published: April 2 2015

The Hurricanes might not want it mentioned but judging from their early-season form it's hard not to put them as title contenders this year.

Six wins from six has strengthened that argument and with three All Blacks coming back from a week's rest, it's hard not to see them making it seven against a Stormers side that were completely outplayed by the Highlanders last Saturday. The 'Canes would be wise to copy that game plan.

The South Africans were out-coached and out-thought in Dunedin as the Highlanders avoided as much set-piece as they possibly could, instead keeping the game open and playing to their strengths of the likes of Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo. It worked.

Chris Boyd's men will hope to do the same in Wellington via Beauden Barrett, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea and New Zealand's next big thing, Nehe Milner-Skudder. Combine that with the second best defence in the competition so far this season and the Hurricanes should claim the victory.

It is possible the Stormers were more focused on this fixture judging from the decision to rest Springbok number eight Duane Vermeulen last week and the fact both he and Eben Etzebeth start this week. Add in the 'Canes being 80 minutes from their bye and it should be a thrilling game.

Working in the Stormers' favour however is recent results between the pair, with the South Africans having prevailed in the last four games. However, Allister Coetzee's side is not having the best of time in New Zealand as they have lost their last four, which is a worry for them.

The last time these sides met: These two met in Round 3 last year and it was the Stormers who came out on top, winning 19-18 in Cape Town thanks to Deon Fourie's try and the boot of Demetri Catrakilis. The 'Canes, however, did outscore the home outfit by two tries to one.

Players to watch: He came on last week against the Rebels and wrapped up the result for the Hurricanes with two late tries. We are talking about Nehe Milner-Skudder, who looks set for huge things. Devastating with ball in hand due to his quick feet and handling, Friday is an opportunity for him to make the next step as a player before their bye. The Stormers must also be wary of TJ Perenara's and Julian Savea's threat as they currently sit joint top of the Super Rugby try-scoring charts with four in only five appearances.

As mentioned, the comeback of Duane Vermeulen to the Stormers number eight jersey is a substantial boost as he joins Siya Kolisi and Schalk Burger, who was excellent in Dunedin last week. The visitors simply have to get on top up front if they are to starve Barrett and the like of good ball and that is where lock Eben Etzebeth and the promising tighthead Vincent Koch can earn their money.

Team news: Ma'a Nonu will play his 150th Super Rugby game this weekend while Barrett, Savea and prop Ben Franks return from a break. Milner-Skudder also comes back into the starting line-up at full-back for Jason Woodward while Motu Matu'u continues in Dane Coles' absence. The Stormers make just two changes to their XV as Springbok forward pair Vermeulen and Etzebeth start at number eight and lock respectively.

Form: It's not difficult to work out who is the form team going into this game as the 'Canes sit on six wins from six after beating the Lions, Bulls, Force, Blues, Highlanders and Rebels. The Stormers meanwhile have picked up four wins from two games in Super Rugby this season, those defeats coming in their last two games against the Chiefs and Highlanders. Can they stop that mini rot in Wellington on Friday?

Prediction: To answer that question, we don't think so. The hosts have too much firepower and should win. Hurricanes by nine!

Previous results:

2014: Stormers won 19-18 in Cape Town
2013: Stormers won 18-16 in Palmerston North
2012: Stormers won 39-26 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 37-13 in Cape Town
2009: Hurricanes won 34-11 in Wellington

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ben May, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.

Date: Friday, April 3
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT 17:35 AEDT, 08:35 SAST)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant Referees: Kane McBride, Mike Lash
TMO: Chris Wratt