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Round 5 Preview - Part 1

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The Hurricanes and Blues will return to Palmerston North on Friday, the scene of the inaugural Super Rugby match at the start of the professional era.

However, what should be a historic occasion could be overshadowed by the ongoing drama surrounding Blues coach John Kirwan.

The legendary former All Black wing is under fire after the Blues lost an unprecedented four consecutive matches at the start of the season.

This is in stark contrast to the Hurricanes, who are unbeaten - following three wins before last week's bye.

The calls for Kirwan's head was this week met by a chorus of supporting voices from within the team.

Record-breaking hooker Keven Mealamu and stand-in captain Luke Braid said Kirwan has their full confidence.

"We've got to look at this as a team thing, not just coaches but players as well. We're in this all together," Mealamu said.

"When you look back to the last four games I think it's just key moments where we've had the foot off the throat or let the opportunity for the other team to come back into the game.

"I think if we can win the key moments it'll really change for us."

The other Friday game also feature two desperate teams - the Western Force hosting the Rebels in Perth, with both looking to end their respective losing streaks.

We look at Friday's matches!

Friday, March 13

Hurricanes v Blues
(FMG Stadium, Palmerston North - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)

The Hurricanes, one of only two remaining unbeaten teams, are determined to make their good start to the season count.

Following victories over the Lions, Bulls and Western Force - on a three-match road trip - the Canes had a bye last week, which often tends to break a team's momentum.

Flank Ardie Savea is hopeful the bye week hasn't dented their momentum heading into Friday's match against the winless and bottom-placed Blues in Palmerston North.

Savea said he can't put his finger on why they got off to such a flyer.

"The players have been here for a few years and we've got lots of leaders out on the field," the loose forward told NZ Newswire.

"The guys are next to each other and everything just seems to click."

Savea said the Hurricanes aren't fooled by the winless Blues' four losses to start the season.

The visitors boast a powerful pack and could be only a game away from clicking on attack in the manner his own team did in Perth, he said.

"When we were in South Africa we focused more on the physicality and having the South Africans running directly at you," he said.

"Now we're coming up against teams who have a lot of skill and who can play with the ball."

The Blues, despite their desperation to end their most dire losing streak ever at the start of a season, are not going to make any drastic changes to their approach.

"The game plan is alright, but it's our decision-making at certain times," stand-in captain Luke Braid told Newstalk ZB.

"We probably did a few too many pick and go's and stuff and stopped our momentum."

Braid said there are different factors as to why they're not getting the results each season and it's something they have to fix.

Recent results:
2014: Blues won 37-24, Auckland
2014: Hurricanes won 39-20, Wellington
2013: Blues won 28-6, Auckland
2013: Blues won 34-20, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 35-19, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 26-25, Auckland

Prediction: The Hurricanes are aiming to win their opening four fixtures for the first time; they followed three wins with a loss in their fourth game in 1998, 2005, 2006 and 2010. In contrast, the Blues are enduring their worst ever start to a season, losing their first four fixtures, and have now lost six in a row stretching back to last season; another loss would equal their worst ever run of seven losses in a row. The Auckland-based side has won three of their last four against the Hurricanes, but have managed just two wins in Wellington since 2002 - which is just as well, considering this clash will be played at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North! The Hurricanes have the best tackling success rate this season, making 91 percent of their tackles so far. The Blues have the best goal-kicking success rate in Super Rugby this season (89 percent). You will get good odds if you want to waste your money on the Blues. rather take the narrow odds on offer on the Hurricanes and guarantee yourself a winning bet. The Hurricanes by at least 15 points.


Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan/Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao/Sam Prattley, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Gibson-Park/Bryn Hall, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 George Moala.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)

Western Force v Rebels
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 19.00; 11.00 GMT; 22.00 AEDT)

Heading into this Round Five clash, both sides are keen to add to their Round One victories.

The Rebels secured a first ever win in New Zealand when they toppled last year's runners-up, the Crusaders, in Christchurch.

The Force produced an equally impressive upset when they recorded a bonus-point win against last year's champions, the Waratahs, also away from home.

Since then, the Rebels have suffered narrow defeats to the Waratahs and Brumbies before last week's bye, while the Western Force were also victims of the impressive Brumbies in Canberra last week.

Western Force are now looking to regain respect, according to wing Nick Cummins.

Cummins said the side would go into Friday's Super Rugby clash with the Melbourne Rebels with a new mindset.

"The boys have got a bit of a chip, they want to have a good crack now and regain that respect,” Cummins told The West Australian.

"The boys want to do it for each other, building that feeling will make all the difference.

"The mindset we've taken in with a couple of changes in direction in play will put us in good stead.

"We came a long way in the attitude in the last game. The scoreline didn't reflect that

"The attitude is the most important part."

Recent results:
2014: Rebels won 22-16, Melbourne
2014: Force won 32-7, Perth
2013: Rebels won 30-23, Perth
2013: Rebels 30-23, Melbourne
2012: Rebels won 32-31, Perth
2012: Rebels won 30-29, Melbourne

Prediction: After winning their opening game, the Force have now lost three in a row, their worst run of losses since March - April 2013. Seven of the eight Super Rugby meetings between these two sides have seen the defeated side take home a losing bonus point. After winning their last away game against the Crusaders, the Melbourne-based side has the opportunity to win consecutive away games for the first time in their history. The Force has the worst tackling (83 percent), scrum (69 percent) and goal-kicking success (50 percent) rates so far this Super Rugby season. The Rebels have the worst line-out success rate in the league, making just 76 percent of their throws. The Force has conceded more tries on average than any other team this season, an average of 3.3 per game. Scott Higginbotham is Super Rugby's new top try-scoring forward, surpassing Owen Finnegan, Jacques Botes and Liam Messam. This is tough to call, as both teams have been erratic, to say the least. We will go for home ground advantage and say the Western Force will win by less than 10 points.


Western Force: 15 Luke Burton, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Sam Wykes (captain), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Sias Ebersohn, 23 Mitchell Scott.

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.

Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)

Compiled by Jan de Koning

Statistical information provided by Opta Sports


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