Jason Holland has made five changes to the Hurricanes’ starting XV for their Round 2 clash with the Crusaders this weekend but top-performer Asafo Aumua has retained his spot at hooker.
After Aumua’s barnstorming performance against the Blues which saw the 21-year-old bag two tries, questions were raised whether Aumua had done enough to cement his spot in the No 2 jersey with the nearing return of Dane Coles.
That question remains unanswered this week, with Coles still not considered for selection – but the All Black’s absence paves the way for Aumua to earn some more valuable minutes before Holland has to make a decision on his starting hooker going forward.
Asked whether Coles would be fit to play if this weekend’s game were it a final, Holland remained coy.
“Possibly. We were never going to consider him for this week but he’s getting real close,” he said. “Some of our long-term injured guys are coming forward pretty quickly. There’s him and Gareth Evans and those sorts of boys who are making good in-roads so Colesy isn’t too far away.”
One player who will return from injury on Sunday is lock Isaia Walker-Leawere. Scott Scrafton, the man he’s replacing, suffered a high ankle sprain against the Blues and is set for a stint on the sidelines, which paves the way for Walker-Leawere to slot straight into the starting lineup.
The loose forwards have been given a shake-up, with captain Ardie Savea shifting to No 8 and Du’Plessis Kirifi taking over in the openside flanker role. Reed Prinsep has jumped from the bench to blindside flanker while Devan Flanders drops back in his place.
It’s the same horses for courses approach that Holland has suggested would be used throughout the season.
“As we said last week, we pick the team that we think is the best way around to play our 23 for the week. Dupes [Kirifi] is going to get into the game early here and be the menace that he is and Dev’s going to be the impact this week so just a slight change in the thinking there.
“Dupes at 7 will do what Dupes does. It maybe frees Ardie up a little bit to get his hands on the ball a little bit more than he can when he’s at 7. It’ll be a good balance there and hopefully, they work in tandem pretty well there.”
Vaea Fifita, who played on the blindside last week, has been ruled out due to a concussion suffered in the loss.
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The only change in the backline sees one-test All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen reinstated at centre to partner Ngani Laumape.
Tevita Mafileo and Liam Mitchell join the bench in favour of Alex Fidow and the injured Fifita.
While the Hurricanes managed a win in Christchurch last year, ending an almost four-year undefeated streak for the Crusaders at home, Holland said that his side no longer use that victory as motivation.
“We know it’s going to be tough, and we know what a great side they are,” Holland said. “But we know that if we play well, we can win.”
Sunday’s match, which was originally scheduled for Saturday evening, will kick off at 4:35 pm NZT. The game will be streamed live on RugbyPass for subscribers who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa season or weekend ticket.
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ardie Savea (c), Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Tevita Mafileo, Liam Mitchell, Devan Flanders, Luke Campbell, Billy Proctor, Salesi Rayasi.
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