Preview: Hurricanes v Waratahs

Date published: April 16 2015

Can anyone stop the Hurricanes in 2015? The defending champions will be next to try as the Waratahs visit Wellington on Saturday.

On current form it's hard to see the 'Tahs putting a stop to their hosts' winning streak, even if the Aussie team has come out on top in five of the last sevens games between these sides.

The men from Sydney were a shadow of the 2014 title-winning outfit in last week's loss to the Stormers as they failed to cash in on their chances while coughing up a handful of soft tries with frustratingly simple errors.

By contrast, the 'Canes – who will be fresh from a bye week – were good value for their win over the very same Stormers last time out, even if they only got the result by five points.

Indeed, narrow wins have been a big part of the story of the Hurricanes' season so far. Four of their seven wins have come via a margin of a converted try or less. But they're playing with confidence and calmness that brings the clinical edge needed to squeeze out positive results from tight situations.

If it all goes to script, we're set for an open and entertaining clash. The last five meetings between the sides have all seen over 45 points on the board in total and an average of 56 per game.

Don't expect the visitors to hand possession over to the lethal 'Canes backline cheaply: The 'Tahs have produced fewer kicks from hand per game (13. 7) than any other team. But it's a situation the Hurricanes are used to since they have been the beneficiaries of the fewest kicks from hand from their opponents; an average of 14.9.

We should see the game open up after the interval. Only the Hurricanes have scored more last-quarter tries (9) than the Waratahs (7).

The last time these team met: Last year, the Waratahs outscored the Hurricanes five tries to three in a humdinger of a Round 12 clash in Sydney to win 39-30. Six tries were scored before the break as the teams swapped ends at 24-all, before the 'Tahs produced the better tactical second half to secure the win.  

Players to watch: All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush will play his 100th Super Rugby match on Saturday, six years after making his debut. Look out for his battle with opposite number Will Skelton, who many believe is a star of the future. Wallaby stalwart Adam Ashley-Cooper will make a welcome return for the Waratahs after a long injury layoff. Alongside Kurtley Beale, the tussle with the incumbent All Black midfield of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu could prove pivotal.

Team news: 'Canes coach Chris Boyd has made minimal changes. Ardie Savea returns from a finger injury to start in the back row. Injury has ruled out Victor Vito, Dane Coles and Chris Smylie.

Ashley-Cooper replaces Matt Carraro as one of three changes for the 'Tahs. Wing Peter Betham replaces Taqele Naiyaravoro – who is sidelined due to complications with his visa – while Pat McCutcheon gets a rare start on the blindside flank in place of Jacques Potgieter, who is benched.

Form: The Hurricanes are coming off a bye week but are unbeaten in seven games this season. They edged the Stromers 25-20 last time out. The Waratahs have blown hot and cold this year, picking up four wins from their seven games. Last week's 32-18 loss at home to the Stormers showed they are well short of the kind of form that took them to the title last year.  

Predictions: The respective results against the Stormers provide a handy gauge of form and the Hurricanes must be considered clear favourites. On home soil, they'll fancy stretching their unbeaten run. Hurricanes by ten points.

Previous results:
2014: Waratahs won 39-30 in Sydney
2013: Hurricanes won 41-29 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 33-12 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 32-16 in Sydney

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 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Callum Gibbins, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Pat McCutcheon, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements (two to be omitted): 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Stephen Hoiles, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 David Horwitz, 25 Jed Holloway

Date: Saturday, April 18
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off:  16:30 local (14:30 AEST, 06:30 SAST, 04:30 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Shane McDermott, Jamie Nutbrown
TMO: Glenn Newman