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Preview: Hurricanes v Blues

16th April 2014 14:05

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Full-back: Andre Taylor

A try-fest would appear to be on the cards when the Hurricanes and the Blues face off on Friday at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

Mark Hammett and John Kirwan's sides have both won three of their first seven matches, suffering four losses and arriving tied on points with 16.

Both are in the top six for tries scored this season with 21 and 20 respectively; the running threat possessed by both teams in the back three making this worth tuning in for alone.

Andre Taylor was the main man in 2012 for the 'Canes and since his return to the starting line-up he has opened up their attack, working behind the ever-improving Beauden Barrett.

Barrett is the real deal - with pace, playmaking ability and composure beyond his years all combining to make him the All Blacks probable start against England later this year, with Dan Carter on sabbatical and Aaron Cruden a fitness doubt.

Julian Savea and Alapati Leiua have both made the most clean breaks this season with 11, tied with Israel Folau, and have also beaten the most defenders (27 and 26), giving you an indication of their running threat - which is bad news for the Blues.

Often criticised this season for their lacklustre defensive displays - conceding around 28 points a game - the Blues have to front up and combat guys like Savea if they want to pick up their fourth win of the season.

Back to the 'Canes, their attack has been so effective this season that they find themselves in the top two stats for carrying, metres made and defenders beaten. The latter stat isn't even close, with their 170 victims miles ahead of the next best from the Highlanders with 138.

Where the 'Canes fall short, as with the Blues, is with their defence. A poor tackling success percentage of 85.1 is why their attacking exploits haven't been better rewarded so far.

To their credit, if you can outscore your opponents then the tackling becomes irrelevant - but in tight games that isn't always feasible as they discovered in losses to the Brumbies and Highlanders.

Their last two results though have been excellent - first stunning the Crusaders with that brilliant try from Leiua and then holding off the Bulls last week at home.

Starting away on tour in South Africa before returning to face last year's finalists the Brumbies was an unforgiving opening phase of matches, but, with three wins from their last four they appear on the right track.

The 'Canes 80 percent success rate at the scrum though will be good news for the Blues, who arrive in Wellington with an All Blacks front row following the return of Keven Mealamu and Charlie Faumuina.

If the Blues can get the squeeze on in this area and exploit Reggie Goodes, who comes in for the injured Ben Franks, then increased territory and keeping the Hurricanes back in their own half may lead to a win. Fielding a back-row of Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid and Steven Luatua certainly gives them an advantage at the breakdown.

Their line-out has been one of the worst in the tournament, a burden Mealamu's return should alleviate, placing the impetus on the inspirational veteran to come good.

Given the right amount of possession, the Blues are no blunt knife, but the selection of Chris Noakes is telling as Kirwan appears to look for more control.

Prediction: Hardening the pack is a boost for the Blues and having captain Luke Braid back helps their cause. But the 'Canes are confident, at home, and if it opens up should seal the win. Hurricanes by eight.

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 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 John Schwalger, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 George Moala, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Lolagi Visinia, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Frank Halai

Date: Friday, April 18
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kickoff: 19:35 (local, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt New Zealand

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