James Blackwell to notch up 50 games for the Hurricanes

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Lock James Blackwell, who will play his 50th game for the Hurricanes, said he didn't expect too much different from the physically demanding play of the Blues seen in earlier years.

"They'll take it to us up-front and that's where we're expecting a challenge. We've worked on that during the week and while they pose a challenge we have some strengths that also count," he said.

Less game time might be a disadvantage, but Blackwell said, if the boot was on the other foot, the Hurricanes would have used their extra week well, especially in ensuring their lineout was humming well.

Blackwell said it had been a dream growing up in the Hurricanes' region to play one game for the side.

It wasn't until last year that he realised he had been playing more games and 50 games, and more became an aspiration he was delighted to have achieved.

Given the nature of the Covid-interrupted seasons of 2020-21, he said he coped with the pressures by not thinking about them too much.

It was about enjoying the chance to play rugby when it occurred, and if it didn't happen, then making the most of what else he could do.

With the Blues having their opening game postponed due to an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Moana Pasifika camp, there were two ways of looking at this weekend's game.

He said the Hurricanes would be feeling confident about coming off the back of a hard game against the Crusaders, while the Blues would feel like having an advantage from an extra week to prepare and come in fresh.

Firmly established in the side as his half-century of games suggests, Blackwell acknowledged the ride of his locking partner Justin Sangster who will have his second game of Super Rugby a week after his debut.

After his meteoric rise with Bay of Plenty, he had been exceptional with the Hurricanes. He was a quick learner and had taken his opportunities, he said.

Coach Jason Holland said, "Both the locks got through a hell of a lot of work and were solid. They've both taken a few days to come right. They spent a bit of time in the lake to get their recovery right over the first few days of the week. They both deserve their spot and we need another good shift out of them."

The thought of playing All Black Julian Savea in the midfield had been with them since the middle of last month. They think he is good in the role with the skill set and knowledge required on both sides of the ball.

"It was always an option and we think it is probably a good time to do that now," he said.

Savea's replacement on the wing, Salesi Rayasi, was desperate for an opportunity and had shaped well through the pre-season.

"We want him to get the ball in his hands and get him to do what he does," he said.

Holland hasn't deviated from his belief that 30 points were necessary to win a game of Super Rugby, and while they got there against the Crusaders last week, they had leaked too many tries.

"We've put a bit of time into that. Attack-wise we were happy but were a little unhappy around finishing off opportunities. That's been a focus but we've got to build on the simple things we did well, and make sure we don't ship points too easily," he said.

Former Blues flanker Blake Gibson will make his debut after Du'Plessis Kirifi's injury, and Holland said he was excited about playing against his old franchise.

"He's been great for our group, he's a little bit different to any of our loosies. He's a strong man and will be menace," he said.


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