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Preview: Blues v Hurricanes

29th May 2014 21:41

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julian savea kicks ahead hurricanes v blues 2014

Blistering form: Julian Savea

No visiting team has won at Eden Park this year but the Hurricanes must do exactly that if they are to keep their play-off hopes on track.

After thrashing the Chiefs last week in their best performance of the season, the Canes are in red-hot form and are right back in the mix to reach the knock-out stages. Although they lie fifth in the overall standings, the men from Wellington have played a game more than most of their nearest rivals so they cannot afford to leave Auckland empty handed on Saturday.

On current form, one would think the Canes will fancy their chances of getting the job done. They have scored more points (29.5) and tries (3.2) per game than any other team in the competition. They also top the charts for line breaks, defenders beaten, ruck success and time in possession.

Those are some impressive stats but the Blues' home record isn't too shabby either. Don't forget that the high-flying Waratahs, Highlanders and Crusaders have all been on the wrong end of results at Eden Park this year.

Although the Blues are out of the reckoning for the play-offs, this weekend is the last chance to impress the All Black selectors ahead of the June internationals and there are a number of players who will be keen to catch the eye.

With nothing left to lose, Blues boss John Kirwan has thrown talented 22-year-old fly-half Ihaia West into the starting line-up and many believe he has the attacking skills to unleash the firepower in a very talented backline.

West says the directive from Kirwan is to do what comes naturally.

"He's just given me full licence to go out there and play my game, and enjoy it," West told NZ Newswire

West will have to be accurate with his kicking out of hand however because the Hurricanes have scored nine tries from possession which originated from kick returns, only the Chiefs have scored more in this fashion (10).

Indeed the Canes backs - Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett especially - are in blockbusting form and bubbling with confidence after running the defending champions ragged last week. The visitors will however be without dangerous full-back Andre Taylor due to an ankle injury and loosehead prop Ben Franks has been ruled out with a groin strain.

Mark Hammett is not taking anything for granted either.

"We're deadly serious about the threats [the Blues] pose," he told the Dominion Post.

"The fact that they probably had the better of the Sharks game, certainly possession-wise, and it was a close game. You talk about the Sharks, they beat the Crusaders the week before, down to 14 and 13 men at times, so they are extremely dangerous and we respect them."

Form: The Blues haven't lost at Eden Park this year (their loss to the Sharks last week was at North Harbour Stadium). The home side are coming off back-to-back losses but twice this season they've bounced back from consecutive defeats to win their next two games. The Hurricanes thrashed the Chiefs 45-8 last week and have won six of their last eight games. The Canes have won just two of their six away games this season, against the Rebels and Crusaders.

Previous results:
2014: Hurricanes won 39-20 in Wellington
2013: Blues won 28-6 in Auckland
2013: Blues won 34-20 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 35-19 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 26-25 in Auckland

Prediction: Matches between these sides in the past have produced drama and loads of tries. Saturday is unlikely to be any different. The Blues home record is a good one but will they have the same desire to get they result? Hurricanes by six.

The teams:

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Albert Nikoro

Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Brendon Edmonds, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 James Marshall.

Date: Saturday, May 31
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (local, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)

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