Coming off a 39-20 victory over the Blues last Friday, the Hurricanes are confident of taking the points off a Reds team currently struggling in a lowly fourth on the Australian conference table and 12th overall. The Hurricanes have shown adaptability and commitment to win under pressure. They beat the Crusaders 29-26, the Bulls 25-20 and then pulled clear of the Blues in the second half to win by the margin of five tries to two.
In contrast, the Reds enter this contest having lost three of their past four matches. After losing to the Lions in Johannesburg (20-33), they returned home to defeat the lowly Stormers in Brisbane (22-17), but then lost to the Force in Perth (29-32) and to the Brumbies at home (20-33). Another loss against the Hurricanes would make the Reds’ quest of reaching the play-offs for a fourth successive year a really tall order.
Reds head coach Richard Graham, well aware of his own team’s limitations, admitted the Australian outfit is with its collective backs to the wall. “The squad has a clear picture of where we sit and we understand that it will take a collective effort to get the results we need in New Zealand,” Graham said. “The Hurricanes are in good form.
“The game will be high paced and we’ll need to manage it well to get the right outcome. “All of the squad will have a responsibility to that end.” The Hurricanes may be on a hot streak, but All Black prop Ben Franks warned them to stay grounded or run the risk of their season imploding. Franks,, back in the starting side after having recovered from a groin injury, warned that the recent three-match winning streak could turn out to be just another “false dawn” if the Canes don’t remain focussed.
“When you are winning everyone is getting the pats on the back and as you can see it feels good turning up to training,” Franks told Fairfax NZ News. “When you lose then you have to have a good hard look at yourself and see what’s not quite going right and that’s sport. It’s an easy job when you win. “We have to work as hard as when we weren’t quite winning. It’s easy if you are mentally weak to switch off and think, ‘things are great now’, and it takes a kick up the arse for things to go back to normal.”
The points table remains tight and there are still eight regular season matches to play and a maximum of 40 competition points still up for grabs for both the Hurricanes and the Reds. Heading into this weekend, just nine points separate the second placed Brumbies (25 points) and 13th placed Rebels (16).
Two key areas that could decide the outcome of this encounter is the battle of the breakdown and the clash of the halfback combinations – TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett for the Hurricanes, and Will Genia and Quade Cooper for the Reds.
2013: Reds won 18-12, Brisbane
2011: Hurricanes won 28-26, Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 44-21, Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 37-28, Brisbane
2008: Hurricanes won 23-18, Wellington
2007: Reds won 25-16, Brisbane
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga’a, 23 Rod Davies.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)