It is crunch-time in Super Rugby and as always more so in the New Zealand conference. The first match this weekend sees the Blues back at home against the Hurricanes who has been second best team behind the Crusaders all season.
The All Black Rieko Ioane will be back for the Blues on the wing in this derby match.
The Blues are currently fifth in the New Zealand conference and four points outside a playoff spot which makes there run in to the playoffs that more important.
The loss last week against the Brumbies did not helped their cause and they will have to get wins under the belt if they want to make the playoffs this year.
Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi will join James Parsons in the front row with captain Patrick Tuipulotu starting at lock.
Dalton Papalii joining Blake Gibson and Akira Ioane in the loose forwards.
Tanielu Tele’a will steps in for an ill Caleb Clarke on the right wing.
For the Hurricanes, All Black TJ Perenara will return to the number nine jumper.
They also have Ben Lam returning after a calf strain injury which will bolster the attacking play for the Hurricanes.
Upfront Plumtree has selected Toby Smith to start at loosehead as the only other change to the side.
With Lam coming back in Taitia moves to the bench as cover with Judd falling out of the match day 23.
Plumtree expected the Blues to pose a real challenge as they return home for the first time since round eight.
“We know they are a really physical side who will be desperate to get a result and get back into a play-off spot” he said.
“They have only lost once at Eden Park this year and that was a close defeat to the Crusaders so we know how difficult it is going to be. But it’s a challenge we are looking forward to and we really want to get our game going to carry on the momentum we have built up.”
Some Interesting Facts (OPTA)
- The Blues have won five of their last six Super Rugby games at home (L1), including their last four on the bounce.
- The Hurricanes have avoided defeat in their last two New Zealand local derbies away from home (W1, D1), this after losing their previous five such fixtures.
- The Hurricanes have conceded just four tries in the final quarter of games this Super Rugby season, the joint-fewest of any team in the competition.
- Rieko Ioane (Blues) has made 22 clean breaks this Super Rugby season, more than any other player in the competition.
Prediction: So difficult but the Hurricanes have so many levels on attack which makes it difficult to go against them, Hurricanes by 9
Blues: 1-Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2-James Parsons, 3-Ofa Tuungafasi, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 5-Josh Goodhue, 6-Dalton Papalii, 7-Blake Gibson, 8-Akira Ioane, 9-Sam Nock, 10-Harry Plummer, 11-Rieko Ioane, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 13-TJ Faiane, 14-Tanielu Tele’a, 15-Melani NanaiR
Replacements: 16-Leni Apisai, 17-Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18-Marcel Renata, 19-Scott Scrafton, 20-Jed Brown, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Otere Black, 23-Matt Duffie
Hurricanes:15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Chase Tiatia