Ma’a Nonu has paid the price for a lethargic opening round performance by being benched for the Hurricanes’ clash with the Highlanders while Piri Weepu has yet to prove his fitness for the Friday night match in Wellington.
Duncan Johnstone writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that Weepu, who missed the loss to the Waratahs with an ankle injury, has been bracketed with Alby Mathewson for the halfback duties.
In a piece of good news the Canes are able to get Conrad Smith’s season under way although that will come via the bench.
He will be sitting alongside Nonu there with Jason Kawau asked to step up to the second five-eighths role alongside centre Tamati Ellison who has also been handed the captaincy in the absence of suspended skipper Rodney So’oialo.
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has resisted the temptation to pair the All Blacks midfield of Nonu and Smith.
Nonu had a disappointing night in the loss to the Waratahs where he was subbed during the second spell. Arguably New Zealand’s most consistent back last year in a season where he played every test for the All Blacks, he made little impact against a strong Tahs defence.
Not that Nonu was alone on that count in what was a poor backline effort for much of the match.
As expected sevens star Victor Vito steps up to play at No 8 to cover the loss of So’oialo who sits out the match after being banned for dangerous play against NSW.
Cooper has given a vote of confidence to young first five-eighths Daniel Kirkpatrick.
Called in late last week when Weepu was ruled out, the young No 10 had a solid debut and has done enough to hold his place.
With Mathewson in good form at halfback there had been expectation that Weepu might be asked to partner him in the halves.
But if he does come through this week, Weepu will be wearing the No 9 jersey.
Lively wing David Smith steps up to operate on the right touch line in place of Zac Guildford.
Lock Jeremy Thrush gets a starting role after making good impact off the bench last Saturday with Bryn Evans out of the match 22.
HURRICANES: 15 Cory Jane, 14 David Smith, 13 Tamati Ellison (c), 12 Jason Kawau, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Piri Weepu/Alby Mathewson, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 John Schwalger.
Reserves: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Api Naikatini, 19 Karl Lowe, 20 Mathewson/Willie Ripia, 21 Ma’a Nonu, 22 Conrad Smith.