Preview: Hurricanes v Western Force

The Hurricanes will be brimming with confidence when they take on the Western Force in Palmerston North on Friday.

Although they were obliterated by the Brumbies in their opening round defeat, theHurricanes have improved as the season progressed and head in to this clash knowing that they have dominated this fixture over the years, winning their last six matches against the men from Perth.

That victory came at a cost, however, as All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder suffered a season-ending shoulder injury but head coach Chris Boyd had the luxury of replacing his 2015 Rugby World Cup winner with a 2011 one in veteran All Black Cory Jane.

In their last match against the Blues, the Hurricanes' senior players paved the way to victory with impressive performances. In the forwards, Victor Vito stepped up to the plate with a solid effort and was rewarded with a try for his efforts while the halfbacks, TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, pulled the strings with their playmaking skills.

The duo will be keen to build on that effort with another assured display against the Force, especially Perenara who thrived as the team's captain while first-choice skipper Dane Coles was nursing an injury.

The Force have been competitive in all their previous results but, once again, have little to show for it. Like the Hurricanes, their halfback pairing, Peter Grant and Alby Mathewson, are expected to play an important role if they want to end their winless streak against their opponents but unlike Barrett and Perenara, who have played alongside each other for several seasons, they will line up together for their first competitive match together.

Both these sides have made a slow start to the season and are amongst the also rans in the attacking statistics. The Hurricanes have only scored five tries from their three matches while the Force have scored one less five-pointer after a similar number of games.

And the Force have made only 18 clean breaks while the Hurricanes – who are usually amongst the frontrunners in this department – have made 16. Both sides are mid table in terms of defenders beaten with Force (57) marginally better than the Hurricanes (52). 
The last time these teams met: The Canes were in a rampant mood, outscoring their hosts five tries to one in a one-sided 42-13 victory in their Round Three fixture in Perth. The men from Wellington led 15-6 at half-time after Cory Jane and Mark Abbott scored tries but turned on the style in the second half and Victor Vito, Julian Savea and James Marshall also dotted down before Matt Scott scored a consolation try for the Force.

Players to watch: All Blacks speedster Julian Savea has been one of the best attackers in this tournament in recent seasons but is yet to score a try this year. Savea, who wreaks havoc when he builds up a head of steam, is yet to reach the heights of previous years and will be keen to show that his slow start to 2016 is a thing of the past with a trademark attacking display.

The Force's captain Matt Hodgson seldom plays a bad game for the men from Perth and will, as usual, be at the forefront of their charge. Hodgson's always give his all for a full 80 minutes and his leadership skills will be crucial if they want to win this one. He is aone of the tournament's best breakdown exponents and his battle with Ardie Savea in that facet of play should play a big part in determiningv this result.

Team News: Hurricanes boss Chris Boyd has made four changes to his starting line-up after last weekend’s victory over the Blues in Auckland. With Nehe Milner-Skudder out for the season with a shoulder injury, Cory Jane moves up from the bench to wear the number 14 jersey. The other changes are all amongst the forwards. First-choice hooker and captain Dane Coles, who missed the first three matches due to injury, returns to the run-on side to replace Leni Apisa while Vaea Fifita takes over from Brad Shields at blindside flank and Chris Eves comes in for Reggie Goodes at loosehead prop.

Force boss Michael Foley has made six changes to his run-on side that went down to the Brumbies. Prop Tetera Faulkner makes his first appearance of the campaign after recovering from injury and replaces Jermaine Ainsley in the number three jersey. In the other changes to the pack, Nathan Charles and Angus Cottrell come in for Heath Tessman and Brynard Stander at hooker and blindside flank respectively. Meanwhile, in the back-line there’s a new halfback combination with Peter Grant and Alby Mathewson taking over from Jono Lance and Ian Prior, while Marcel Brache and is preferred to Luke Morahan on the right wing.

Form: After losing their first two matches on the road against the Brumbies and Highlanders, the Hurricanes claimed their first victory when they beat the Blues 24-19 in Auckland last weekend. The Force started their campaign with a home loss to the Melbourne Rebels but bounced back with a hard-fought away victory over the Reds before suffering a 31-14 defeat to the Brumbies in Perth.

Prediction: The Hurricanes are set to continue where they left off against the Blues last weekend and shouldn’t have too much trouble in winning this one. Hurricanes to win by 10 points.

Previous results:
Hurricanes won 42–13 in Perth
2013: Hurricanes won 22-16 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 46-19 in Perth
2011: Hurricanes won 34-28 in Palmerston North
2010: Hurricanes won 47-22 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 28-27 in Perth

The teams:
15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Ben May, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Callum Gibbins,  21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Jason Woodward

Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Solomoni (Junior Rasolea), 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan 
Replacements: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Heath Tessmann, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sitiveni (Stevie) Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Kane McBride
TMO: Shane McDermott