Preview: Blues v Hurricanes
A New Zealand derby is second up on Saturday as the Blues play host to the 'Canes in what should be a thrilling match at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Blues won last time out, in Round One, and with exactly 54 points having been scored in their last two meetings, we hope for a similar try feast.
Young talent will be the flavour of the fixture as all eyes will be on a plethora of players who are making names for themselves after six games.
The Hurricanes quite possibly possess one of the brightest talents in world rugby as Ardie Savea gave a debut many were predicting last weekend. The 19-year-old, who is the younger brother of Julian, could well be destined for Test accolades himself as he took to Super Rugby with ease.
Julian though has been superb so far and currently has the edge over Hosea Gear for the All Blacks left wing position. Four tries already confirms that fact. Held together by the likes of seasoned veterans Conrad Smith and Jason Eaton, we fancy the 'Canes to now kick on and push for the conference lead.
They have this week brought in another level head to help them in that quest as Tusi Pisi starts at fly-half to cover for Beauden Barrett moving to full-back. Barrett's positional shift is due to Andre Taylor being moved to bench duty after an indifferent start to the season.
"Tusi offers another style of attack with his versatility as a 10, 12 and 15 for us this weekend," said 'Canes assistant coach Alama Ieremia about the change this week.
From one positional move to another, Rene Ranger finds himself back on the left wing due to the suspension of young George Moala. Ranger, whose future remains up in the air next season, has been his usual hot and cold self so far and continues to thrill whilst frustrating the Blues supporters. The jury remains out over whether he is best suited to centre or left wing but we guess it will be very tough to displace certain All Blacks in both starting spots.
Back to the game at hand, however, and there is no question that this one is imperative to both's aspirations of challenging for the play-offs. The Blues (22 points) and Hurricanes (23) desperately need to stay in touch with the pace-setting Chiefs (29). If they do, sneaking into the knockouts is then highly probable later in the year. An eight-pointer then? We think so.
Super head-to-head: A few clashes catch the eye, one being at outside centre where youngster Francis Saili takes on Conrad Smith. Saili has shown a great deal of promise so far but moving out one position to come up against the master will be his toughest test to date. Of course eyes will be on Ardie Savea in his second start and this weekend he meets the likes of Luke Braid and Steven Luatua who are consistently strong players.
Prediction: While the Blues got back to winning ways and have a bye next week, we feel the Hurricanes might have a touch too much. Let's say the men from Wellington to win by 3!
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Albert Nikoro.
Hurricanes: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Ben May, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Ben Franks / Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles / Ash Dixon, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Reynold Lee-Lo, 22 Andre Taylor.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (08:35 BST, 7:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)