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Preview: Blues v Hurricanes

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Sportal.co.nz     17 Mar 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Saturday, March 19, 2011, 19.35 (NZT)

HEAD TO HEAD: Blues 9, Hurricanes 5, Draw 1

LAST TIME: February 12, 2010 (Auckland) – Blues 200-34 Hurricanes.

WALKING WOUNDED: Injuries are still afflicting the Hurricanes with the list including: Piri Weepu (ankle), Karl Lowe (knee), Hosea Gear (shoulder), Serge Lilo (knee), Rodney So'oialo (lower back), Alapati Leiua (knee). For the Blues Chris Smylie is back on the bench as halfback support while Peter Saili starts after recovering from a head knock. Not considered were lock Ali Williams due to a hamstring strain and Daniel Braid due to a neck problem. Jeremy Thrush is back at lock for the Hurricanes after a calf injury while Ma'a Nonu has returned from suspension.
 
FORM:
Blues:
Week 1: Won v Crusaders 24-22
Week 2: Lost v Sharks 12-26
Week 3: Won v Lions 41-32
Week 4: Drew v Force 22-22

Hurricanes:
Week 1: Lost v Highlanders 9-14
Week 2: Drew v Crusaders 0-0
Week 4: Won v Chiefs 29-26

WHO'S HOT: Prop Tony Woodcock has been making his mark in the tight this season and gets the chance to make his 100th appearance for the side this weekend. Clearly in the Blues' case it is who hasn't been hot that has caused coach Pat Lam to swing the selectorial axe with wing Joe Rokocoko a notable victim while No.8 Peter Saili is back in position. So too is halfback Alby Mathewson. No.8 Victor Vito has been looking sharp for the Hurricanes and could be a key force for his side while Cory Jane is a danger whenever he joins the backline.

WE THINK: This is always a vigorous contest. The Blues were disappointing in drawing with the Force in Perth at the weekend and that is reflected in the selection for the game. They have a strengthened mid-field and have taken a gamble with Benson Stanley on the wing. But against a team with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith the defence has to be watertight. The Hurricanes have also been interesting in opting to play Daniel Kirkpatrick at first five-eighths, possibly with a view to his goal-kicking soundness. That suggests the Hurricanes are looking for a close contest and they may be better equipped to handle that.

TEAMS:
Blues: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Keven Mealamu (captain), 3.John Afoa, 4.Anthony Boric, 5.Kuris Haiu, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Luke Braid, 8.Peter Saili, 9.Alby Mathewson, 10.Stephen Brett, 11.Benson Stanley, 12.Luke McAlister, 13.Jared Payne, 14.Rene Ranger, 15.Isaia Toeava.

Reserves: 16.Tom McCartney, 17.Tevita Mailau, 18.Filo Paulo, 19.Matt Luamanu, 20.Chris Smylie, 21.Lachie Munro, 22.Sherwin Stowers.

Hurricanes: 1.John Schwalger, 2.Andrew Hore (capt), 3.Neemia Tialata, 4.Jeremy Thrush, 5.Jason Eaton, 6.Faifili Levave, 7.Jack Lam, 8.Victor Vito, 9.Chris Eaton, 10.Daniel Kirkpatrick, 11.Andre Taylor, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Julian Savea, 15.Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16.Dane Coles, 17.Anthony Perenise, 18.James Broadhurst, 19.Mark Reddish, 20.Tyson Keats, 21.Aaron Cruden, 22.Jayden Hayward.

REFEREE: Vinny Munro