Preview: Hurricanes v Force
Sportal.co.nz 18 Apr 2013 Getty Images
LAST TIME: Round 1, 2012 – Force 19-46 Hurricanes at nib Stadium.
MISSING IN ACTION:
The Hurricanes have received a timely boost with a number of players being discharged from the medical ward. Jack Lam will make his first start for the Hurricanes since undergoing surgery to repair his ACL, while lock Jeremy Thrush is also returning from injury.
The pair take their place at the expense of Ardie Savea, whose workload is being managed, and Jason Eaton. Victor Vito's calf strain is still being monitored.
Hooker Dane Coles was also due to return from a thumb injury, but took a blow around his eye during training. Motu Matu'u will keep the starting hooker spot if Coles is unable to recover in time.
For the Force, Sam Wykes (groin), Pek Cowan (shoulder) and Ben McCalman (head) all took knocks in their 16-14 upset win over the Crusaders in Round 9, but have been named in the 24-man squad to travel to Wellington and Canberra over the next two weeks.
The Hurricanes have had a relatively comfortable run, with last week's 6-28 loss to the Blues their first in five matches.
They secured just the second win in seven attempts by a New Zealand franchise over Australian opposition when they beat the Waratahs 41-29 to move up the Investec Super Rugby table.
However, their 22-point defeat to the Auckland franchise has seen them drop to third in the New Zealand conference. They're currently in eighth place on 23 points, but trail the Bulls and Cheetahs on points difference.
The Force enter this match on their best win in their eight seasons of Super Rugby so far. The 16-14 triumph won't be remembered for the free-flowing affair commonly associated between Trans-Tasman franchises. Instead it was a gritty 25-minute period where, despite wave after wave of attack from the Crusaders, the Force remained strong and thwarted their fancied opponents.
What followed was almost comical. A pitch invasion from a number of fans saw them receive five-year bans from RugbyWA, while one was charged with trespass. Given the scale of the result, and the way their season has progressed, it's hard to fault anyone for showing that level of emotion given their traditionally torrid campaigns.
The clock is about to strike midnight for the Force, ending what has been a fairytale week for the visitors.
The Hurricanes are eighth on points differential, and with the Bulls tackling the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs challenging the Sharks, every competition point is crucial.
A bonus-point win will keep the pressure on the Blues, who take an automatic four points from having a bye.
This will be motivation enough for a side whose wobbles against the Blues will need to be erased if there's to be any form of confidence come Friday.
As for the Force, who have 15 points, it looks as if playing for pride has already become the main focus for the 2013 season. Sixteen points adrift of the second-placed Reds in their own conference, the Force will be looking to play the role of spoilers, something they did with perfection against the Crusaders.
However, every fairytale must come to an end and for the Force that should be realised at approximately 9.30pm NZT. Hurricanes by 14.
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