Hurricanes v Western Force Match Preview
Hurricanes v Western Force Match Preview

The Hurricanes will earn a semi-final berth if they can beat Western Force in their Rebel Sport Super 14 round 13 clash at Westpac Stadium on Friday night, kick off 7.35pm.

The Hurricanes’ 38-12 bonus-point win over the Lions, together with other results last weekend, including the Force’s dramatic 22-21 win over the Chiefs, have placed the Hurricanes third on the table on 36 points, behind only the Crusaders (47 points) and the Waratahs (37).

Coach Colin Cooper has made three changes to the starting XV, with the only change to the pack being

the return of Neemia Tialata who replaces John Schwalger at prop, having recovered from his throat injury. Schwalger drops to the bench in place of Jacob Ellison.

In two changes to the backline, Conrad Smith comes back into centre for Tane Tu’ipulotu and Hosea Gear replaces Shannon Paku on the right wing. Tamati Ellison comes back into the reserves as a replacement for Tu’ipulotu.

Jerry Collins is still unavailable with the rib injury he picked up against the Sharks, while Willie Ripia has been selected to start his third match at first five-eighth ahead of Jimmy Gopperth, who will play his 50th Super Rugby match should he take the field.

Gopperth made his debut against the Reds in the first round of 2005 and appeared in 34 consecutive matches for the Hurricanes until last year. He has scored 354 Super Rugby points to date and last year brought up his 150th point for the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium when he converted Scott Waldrom’s try last Saturday night.

Ma’a Nonu who scored two tries against the Lions has now scored 25 Super Rugby tries and is clear third on the on the Hurricanes’ all-time try-scoring list behind Christian Cullen (56 tries) and Tana Umaga (47 tries). Umaga scored the last of his 47 tries in the match against the Force two years ago.

Captain Rodney So’oialo will play his 35th match as Hurricanes captain and equal Umaga’s record of most matches as Hurricanes skipper. So’oialo’s record in charge of the Hurricanes is 23 wins, 10 losses and one draw from 34 matches.

The Force come to Wellington for the first time, fresh securing a last gasp win over the Chiefs at home at Perth on Saturday night. Matt Giteau won that match by kicking the decisive penalty on fulltime, after the Chiefs had fought back from 19-8 down during a thrilling last quarter of play.

This result will echo with Hurricanes fans, after the Force snatched a victory in the shadows of full-time to beat the Hurricanes in a similar fashion in their Super 14 match in Perth last year.

Force left wing Cameron Shepherd converted his own try from the sideline after the final hooter for his side to win 18-17, after the Hurricanes had seemingly won the game with a converted try only minutes earlier.

Replacement Hurricanes first five-eighth Gopperth had converted his own try in the 78th minute to give the Hurricanes a 17-11 lead, before the home team managed to spin the ball wide to Shepherd to score.

The Force’s win over the Chiefs also keeps their semi-final chances alive, albeit faint, but with everything to play for on Friday. So far this season they have won six and lost six, while the Hurricanes have won seven, lost four and drawn one.

With a proven fighting spirit, and with a clutch of experienced game breakers to call upon including Giteau, Shepherd, Drew Mitchell and 64-test Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe, the Force are sure to provide a tough match for the Hurricanes.

The Force’s fortunes weren’t so rosy when they visited New Zealand to play the Hurricanes in their debut season in 2006, losing 29-5 in New Plymouth. Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton scored two tries in that game, while hooker Andrew Hore and Lome Fa’atau also crossed the whitewash.

This match against the Force will also be the Hurricanes’ 75th at a home venue. Of the 74 played to date 45 have been won, 27 lost and there have been two draws.

The Hurricanes playing 22 to face Western Force at Westpac Stadium at Friday night is:

1 Neemia Tialata

2 Andrew Hore

3 Tim Fairbrother

4 Jeremy Thrush

5 Jason Eaton

6 Chris Masoe

7 Scott Waldrom

8 Rodney So’oialo ©

9 Piri Weepu

10 Willie Ripia

11 Zac Guildford

12 Ma’a Nonu

13 Conrad Smith

14 Hosea Gear

15 Cory Jane

16. Hikawera Elliot

17. John Schwalger

18. Craig Clarke

19. Thomas Waldrom

20. Alby Mathewson

21. Jimmy Gopperth

22. Tamati Ellison