John Plumtree will take a cautious approach this weekend, giving most of his star players a rest against the Blues.
With a home quarterfinal already secured and no chance of moving up or down in the Super Rugby standings, the Hurricanes coach made at nine changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s match at Westpac Stadium from the one which beat the Lions in Johannesburg last weekend.
Beauden and Jordie Barrett, and Ngani Laumape, sit out the match entirely, while Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara are on the bench.
James Blackwell was bracketed alongside Kane Le’aupepe to start at lock, but was later removed from the 23 once Le’aupepe was cleared through the head injury protocols.
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The loose forward trio of Reed Prinsep, Du’Plessis Kirifi and Gareth Evans have been retained. Dane Coles will captain the side from hooker in his first start since coming back from an 10-week injury layoff two weeks ago against the Sharks.
The backline is very inexperienced with Richard Judd and Jackson Garden-Bachop starting at 9-10. Outside them, Danny Toala and Peter-Umaga Jensen start in the midfield. Salesi Rayasi is on the right wing.
Those five players have 34 Super Rugby caps between them. Both starting left wing Ben Lam and fullback James Marshall have more caps individually than that.
Plumtree said the dead-rubber final round robin match was a good chance to give those players a chance to show their worth.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to have a look at a couple of other players who haven’t had a lot of time. It’s a good opportunity for us to rest some players who have had a lot of time.
“There’s obviously some injuries as well that have forced us to change. It wasn’t easy trying to organise this team coming back from Africa and sorting the group out. We’re there and we’ve got a good competitive side and we’re expecting a good performance.”
Toala and Rayasi stepped off a plane in South Africa mid-week in the leadup to the Lions game, with the latter playing 60 minutes after Chase Tiatia went down with a calf injury. Toala came off the bench late in the match for his Super Rugby debut.
“Flying Danny and Salesi over to Johannesburg and playing in that environment was certainly a baptism of fire for them.
“Danny didn’t get a lot of time, but he came on and did a couple of nice things. I thought Salesi played really well as well.
“We are looking at the future of this club in those boys and both of them will get to mark a couple of seasoned campaigners [against the Blues].
“It’s a great opportunity for them, there is no pressure on them, they can go out and do their thing.”
Tiatia’s injured calf muscle puts him in serious doubt for the quarterfinal.
Wes Goosen injured his hamstring against the Sharks the weekend before, but is on track for the quarterfinal, while Matt Proctor’s pectoral injury means he is only an outside chance of playing in the playoffs.
As for the Blues, Plumtree said they would provide a tough test for his young team.
“They’re a proud team and they’ll want to finish their year with a good performance. Just like all derby games I’m expecting it to be a tough clash.
“We’re obviously getting over a long trip, so I’m taking it easy on the boys the first part of the week, and we’ll up our intensity this afternoon [Thursday] and tomorrow [Friday].”
Hurricanes team to play Blues: James Marshall, Ben Lam, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Danny Toala, Salesi Rayasi, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Richard Judd, Gareth Evans, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Kane Le’aupepe, Ross Geldenhuys, Dane Coles (c), Fraser Armstrong. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Chris Eves, Alex Fidow, Liam Mitchell, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Fletcher Smith, Jonah Lowe.
Blues: Melani Nanai, Caleb Clarke, Tanielu Tele’a, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Otere Black, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson (capt), Dalton Papalii, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Marcel Renata, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Leni Apisai, Hisa Sasagi, Lua Li, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Jonathan Ruru, Harry Plummer, Ma’a Nonu.