The Blues will host the Hurricanes in front of their biggest crowd in more than a decade when they host the Hurricanes in an Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa opening round blockbuster at Eden Park on Sunday morning (5 am) South African time.
It has only been a few days since New Zealand dropped restrictions on crowd numbers at mass gatherings but already tickets have flown out the door with a combined crowd of over 60,000 expected at both Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night and Eden Park on Sunday afternoon. As of Friday afternoon, ticket sales were approaching 40,000 at Eden Park.
All eyes will be on Beauden Barrett, an all-time Hurrican great when he runs out not just in a blue jersey, but also with the number 15 on his back, not 10. Barrett is an all-time Hurricanes great. He stands atop the club’s point-scoring record and led them to their only title in 2016. But that will quickly be forgotten when he takes the field for the Blues on Sunday.
The make-up of the Blues loose forward trio is one area that kept Head Coach Leon MacDonald up late at night before settling on Hoskins Sotutu at 8, Blake Gibson at 7 and Tom Robinson at 6. The talented Akira Ioane was the unlucky one to miss out with Dalton Papalii taking a spot on the bench.
“It’s hard telling someone they’re not playing when they’ve done everything right, and Akira is one of those,” said MacDonald. “He’s come back and his skinfolds have never been so good, his fitness levels are great and he’s trained the house down. His time will come. He’s pushing and asking the right questions, and puts pressure on the guys who get the opportunity to nail it.”
Blues: Beauden Barrett, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Sam Nock; Hoskins Sotutu, Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (capt), Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman. Replacements: Kurt Eklund, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Marcel Renata, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Matt Duffie.
The Hurricanes are boosted by a returning star of their own with Ardie Savea back after nearly eight months on the sidelines. It has been a long road back for Savea after injuring his knee in the Rugby World Cup semifinal loss to England in October last year. Coach Jason Holland said Savea would add impact in the final 20-30 minutes for the Hurricanes and joins fellow All Blacks Asafo Aumua and Vaea Fifita in a power-packed bench for the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes: Chase Tiatia, Wes Goosen, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara (co-captain), Gareth Evans, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles (co-captain), Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: Asafo Aumua, Tevita Mafileo, Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea, Jamie Booth, Billy Proctor.
The Blues picked up a 24-15 win in their last Super Rugby meeting with the Hurricanes, snapping a nine-game losing streak against them in the process.
The Hurricanes have won on each of their last five visits to face the Blues in Super Rugby, more times than they had won in all 12 such meetings prior (W4).
The Blues have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce; the last time they won more in succession was a seven-game stretch in the 2011 campaign which was bookended with wins against the Hurricanes.
The Blues have lost only three of their last 10 Super Rugby games played on home soil (W6, D1); however, they have won only one of their last four in that span (D1, L2).
Only two of the Hurricanes' last five Super Rugby games have seen the same team lead at both half-time and full-time on the day.
The Hurricanes have lost only one of their last nine regular-season Super Rugby games away from home (W7, D1), including wins in each of their last three New Zealand derbies on the road.
The Blues have made 10+ offloads in each of their last two Super Rugby games, after doing so only once in nine games prior; the last time they made 10+ offloads in more consecutive games was a seven-game stretch across the 2017 and 2018 campaigns.
The Hurricanes have finished each of their last 10 Super Rugby games without losing a single scrum on their own feed, winning a total of 84 scrums in that stretch.
Beauden Barrett has scored three tries and made three try assists across his last four Super Rugby games between the Blues and Hurricanes; however, this will be the first time he's represented the Auckland side against his former club.
Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) has made 10+ carries and 10+ kicks in play in each of his last two Super Rugby games, after having not done so even once previously in the competition.