The Hurricanes welcome back captain Rodney So’oialo from serving a one-week suspension.
The Hurricanes’ official website reports that So’oialo, who returns to No. 8 for his 78th Super Rugby cap, is one of seven confirmed changes from the Hurricanes team that grabbed their first win of the year against the Highlanders in round two.
So’oialo replaces last week’s No. 8 Victor Vito at the back of the scrum, as the 21-year-old has joined the New Zealand Sevens team preparing for the Sevens World Cup in Dubai in March.
In other changes to the forwards, Tim Fairbrother plays his first game of the season at tighthead prop, against the team he made his Hurricanes debut for in 2003, with Neemia Tialata in the reserves, and in a straight swap off the bench Karl Lowe replaces Faifili Levave at blindside flanker.
In a reshuffled backline, Piri Weepu plays first five-eighth, with Alby Mathewson at halfback and Daniel Kirkpatrick dropping to the bench.
There is a new midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, Nonu starting at second five-eighth for Jason Kawau who drops out of the squad for this match and last week’s matchwinner Smith off the bench at centre for Tamati Ellison.
Nonu and Smith last played in the midfield together for the Hurricanes in the 2008 semifinal against the Crusaders.
Zac Guildford returns to the team to play right wing in place of David Smith, who is being rested for this match.
The Crusaders loom as tough opponents for the Hurricanes on Friday, with a formidable record behind them. Both teams will be hoping to secure victory and make it two wins from three at the start of this year’s Super 14, after the Crusaders lost in the last minute last week to the Brumbies.
Friday’s encounter will be the 17th meeting between the sides, with the Crusaders the most frequently played opposition for the Hurricanes over the 14-year history of Super Rugby. This includes three semi-finals and one final – all in the last six years. The Crusaders prevailed on each of those four occasions, winning 39-16 in 2003, 47-7 in 2005 19-12 in 2006 and 33-22 last year.
Overall, the Crusaders have had the better of the clashes in winning twelve with one draw. An 18-18 result in 1999 was one of only two draws ever for the Hurricanes, the other being a 26-26 tie against the Blues in 2004.
The Crusaders have had the better of all their recent clashes in winning the last seven consecutive fixtures since 2005, although five have been in Christchurch and two have been play-off matches.
Hurricanes fans will feel their team is due for a win over their South Island opponents on Friday night, with 2004′s 37-20 win the last, while other victories were back-to-back in 2000 and 2001, with the Hurricanes winning 28-22 and 41-29 respectively. The 41 points scored in 2001 is the most by the Hurricanes against the Crusaders, while the widest winning margin was 17 points in 2004.
Last year the Crusaders won 20-13 in the round-robin at Westpac Stadium and then 33-22 in the semi-final at AMI Stadium, the Crusaders kicking to a big lead with three consecutive tries before the Hurricanes could came back strongly in the end.
Expect a hard fought clash up front and a defence orientated match if history is anything to go by, although 19 of the Hurricanes 35 tries in all matches have been run from either the wing or fullback position. These include seven tries scored by Christian Cullen, three by Brent Ward, three by Jonah Lomu, two by Lome Fa’atau and one each to Alex Telea, Hosea Gear and Zac Guildford.
Cullen (three times), Lomu, Ward and hooker Andrew Hore have each scored two tries in games against the Crusaders.
Look out for big games from the Crusaders No. 8 Thomas Waldrom, having shifted south from the Hurricanes having played 30 times from 2004-2008 and he will no doubt be eager to impress his former his team mates from the other side of the advantage line.
The Hurricanes team to meet in round three of the 2009 Rebel Sport Super 14 on Friday 27 February at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, kick-off 7.35pm, is as follows:
1. John Schwalger, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Tim Fairbrother, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Karl Lowe, 7. Scott Waldrom, 8. Rodney So’oialo, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Piri Weepu, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Zac Guildford, 15. Cory Jane.
Reserves: 16. Jacob Ellison, 17. Neemia Tialata, 18. Bryn Evans, 19. Faifili Levave, 20. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 21. Tamati Ellison, 22. David Smith.Tweet