Friday, 22 February 2008 The Hurricanes host the Reds at Westpac Stadium on Friday night in their first home game of the 2008 Rebel Sport Super 14.
Head coach Colin Cooper has made three changes to the starting XV that played against the Waratahs in round one. In two changes to the tight five, Neemia Tialata trades places off the bench with tighthead prop Tim Fairbrother and Craig Clarke comes out of the reserves in place of Jeremy Thrush. In the backs, Tane Tu'ipulotu replaces Tamati Ellison at second five-eighth, who is recovering from a thigh injury. Tu'ipulotu, who will line up between first five-eighth Jimmy Gopperth and centre Conrad Smith in the midfield, makes his first appearance for two seasons after playing for the Chiefs last year. Prior to that, he earned 24 caps for the Hurricanes between 2004-2006. Gopperth plays in his 41st Super rugby match needing eleven points to become the fourth Hurricane to pass 300 points in Super Rugby, after David Holwell (676 points), Christian Cullen (308) and Jon Preston (300). The Reds come to Wellington with plenty of confidence after beating the Highlanders 22-16 in their season opener in Brisbane, surviving a second half Highlanders comeback after leading 19-6 midway through the second half. The 1996, 1999 and 2001 Super 12 semi-finalists were off the pace last year due to a spate of injuries and a loss of form, but have a fit and experienced squad for the start of the 2008 season. They beat the Hurricanes 25-16 last year in round one at home at Suncorp Stadium, two penalties and a dropped goal proving the difference after both sides scored one converted try apiece. That win for the Queenslanders was their first over the Hurricanes in five seasons, although each of those previous five were close with the Hurricanes' average winning margin just seven points. In other recent results, the Hurricanes won 26-22 in Wellington in round 13 in 2006 and 24-10 in Brisbane in the first round of 2005.
This will be their seventh meeting in New Zealand, with the Hurricanes ahead four wins to two in four games played in Wellington and one each in Palmerston North and New Plymouth. Both defeats to the Reds were at Athletic Park in 1996 (25-32) and 1998 (33-41). Two of the Reds' injury problems last season were in the front row, where props Rodney Blake (foot) and Greg Holmes (shoulder) were sidelined for much of the campaign. But this pair will both be playing on Friday, and together with hooker Stephen Moore form an all Wallaby front row against the Hurricanes All Black lynchpins Tialata, Andrew Hore and John Schwalger. It will be a captain's battle at the back of the scrum, with Rodney So'oialo facing Reds No. 8 John Roe, who scored two tries against their first-up encounter with the Highlanders. So'oialo and Roe also made their Super rugby debuts against each other in the same game in 2001 when the Reds prevailed 27-18 in Brisbane. Lookout for another streamlined performance from lock Jason Eaton. The now clean-shaven Eaton featured prominently against the Waratahs, and meets another rising star in James Horwill who made his Wallabies debut in last year's Tri-Nations against the All Blacks at Eden Park. It will be another exciting battle of the back threes, between wingers Nonu and Hosea Gear and Digby Ioane and Clinton Schifcofske, and at fullback between the Reds' Chris Latham, now in his tenth year of Super rugby, and the Hurricanes' Jane who scored a try against the Reds on debut last year. Kick off at Westpac Stadium is at 7.35pm. The Hurricanes team to play the Reds at Westpac Stadium on Friday is: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Tane Tu'ipulotu, 11 Ma'a Nonu, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So'oialo (c), 7 Chris Masoe, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger. Reserves: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Tim Fairbrother, 18 Jeremy Thrush, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Shannon Paku.