The Hurricanes will be hoping to continue where they left off against the Blues last week when they host the Reds in Wellington on Friday.
New Zealand teams have dominated fixtures against sides from Australia in recent years and a Hurricanes triumph in this encounter will be the 40th consecutive victory by a Kiwi side over their Australian rivals.
The Reds know that they face a daunting task and apart from that statistic regarding matches between teams from the aforementioned countries, the men from Brisbane have found the going tough against the Hurricanes over the years.
Of the previous 15 matches between the sides, the Hurricanes have won 13, including their last four on the bounce with the Reds’ last victory in this fixture registered in 2013.
Confidence will be high in the home side’s ranks as they head into this fixture in superb form after winning their last 10 matches. The Reds, by contrast, are going to have to play out of their skins to pull off an upset against their hosts as they have battled to build momentum in 2018. Last weekend, they reached the lowest point of their campaign when they suffered a humiliating 63-28 defeat to the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Under the guidance of their new head coach, former All Blacks enforcer Brad Thorn, they have shown signs of improvement especially in their forward play. They have finished their last two games without losing a scrum – as many times as they had in their 11 games prior to that.
However, they face arguably their toughest challenge of the season against an impressive Hurricanes side who have won 19 of their last 20 games on home soil, including their last seven on the bounce. The last time they lost to an Australian team at home was in Round 10 of 2015.
The last time the teams met: These teams faced off in Brisbane last year and the Hurricanes claimed a hard-fought 34-15 win. The Hurricanes held a 14-12 lead at half-time but eventually took control of proceedings in the second half. Jordie Barrett led the way for the men from Wellington with a 14-point haul courtesy of a try, three conversions and a penalty while Julian Savea, TJ Perenara, Vince Aso and Beauden Barrett also dotted down. For the Reds, Chris Kuridrani and Scott Higginbotham crossed the whitewash and Jake McIntyre added a penalty and a conversion.
Players to watch:
For Hurricanes: After missing the bulk of his team’s campaign due to a shoulder injury, Nehe Milner-Skudder is determined to make up for lost time and will be determined to continue to build on his impressive display against the Blues. The All Blacks flyer was rewarded with a well-taken try in that match in Auckland, and his game-breaking ability makes him a genuine threat to the Reds’ defence.
For Reds: The return of Wallaby back-row Scott Higginbotham is a shot in the arm for the 2011 champions. Higginbotham is a robust player who will take the fight to his opponents with his direct approach as a ball carrier and aggressive defence. The 31-year-old is also a superb lineout exponent and as the team’s captain his leadership will also be crucial to his team’s cause.
Team news: TJ Perenara will return to the Hurricanes’ starting XV and lead the team in this fixture. He will take over the captaincy from regular skipper Brad Shields who has been given an opportunity to come off the bench after starting an impressive 39 matches in a row for the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has named a strong line-up to face the Reds as the squad tries to win its 10th match in a row in front of what is expected to be a bumper crowd at Westpac Stadium.
While the pack has had a bit of a reshuffle, the players Boyd has named have all got a healthy amount of Super Rugby experience.
That includes number eight Blade Thomson who will get his first run-on this season while he will be accompanied in the loose forwards by Reed Prinsep and Ardie Savea.
The other change in the pack sees Michael Fatialofa return to the second-row in place of Vaea Fifita who suffered a head knock early against the Blues. Fifita has, however, recovered and will take his place on the bench.
There will also be a debut for promising midfield back Peter Umaga-Jensen who has impressed with his attitude within the squad despite a lack of opportunities to date.
Full-back Jordie Barrett returns to the starting line-up after coming off the bench against the Blues with Nehe-Milner Skudder moving to the wing in place of Julian Savea.
Meanwhile, the Reds have been boosted by the return of their captain, Scott Higginbotham. They have made three personnel changes to the starting side which lost to the Sunwolves last weekend and a further three to the reserves.
In the forwards, Higginbotham’s return from a calf injury sees him resume his role as starting number eight, with Angus Scott-Young shifting to blindside flanker and Adam Korczyk dropping out of the matchday 23.
JP Smith has also been named at starting loosehead prop. James Slipper was not considered for selection for welfare reasons.
In the backs, Duncan Paia’aua has been promoted to the starting side, after Chris Feauai-Sautia failed to recover from a concussion suffered against the Sunwolves. Paia’aua has been named at inside centre, with Samu Kerevi shifting to outside centre.
On the bench, the Reds have made changes to the reserve front-row, with hooker Andrew Ready earning selection for the first time since Round 5 and Ruan Smith returning, after not being considered for selection last week. Alex Mafi and Harry Hoopert have dropped out of the 23.
Outside back Izaia Perese has also returned to the reserves, named in the place made available by Paia’aua’s promotion.
Form: The Hurricanes are the tournament’s form team as they have won 10 out of 11 matches. They lost their opening match to the Bulls but since then, they have gone on a ten-match winning streak, beating the Jaguares, Crusaders, Highlanders, Rebels, Sharks, Chiefs, Sunwolves, Lions and Blues.
Meanwhile, the Reds have delivered a mixed bag of results in 2018. Last week’s loss to the Sunwolves was the sixth of their campaign and follows defeats to the Chiefs, Waratahs, Brumbies, Stormers and Rebels. They also beat the Brumbies at home and got the better of the Bulls, Jaguares, and Lions.
Prediction: The Hurricanes are on a high and will have little trouble coping with the Reds’ challenge. Hurricanes to win by 18 points.
2017: Hurricanes won 34-15 in Brisbane
2016: Hurricanes won 29-14 in Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 35-19 in Brisbane
2014: Hurricanes won 35-21 in Wellington
2013: Reds won 18-12 in Brisbane
2011: Hurricanes won 28-26 in Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 44-21 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 37-28 in Brisbane
2008: Hurricanes won 23-18 in Wellington
2007: Reds won 25-16 in Brisbane
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 23 Julian Savea
Reds: 15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Izaia Perese, 23 Aidan Toua
Date: Friday, May 18
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: James Doleman (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)