Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith believes tomorrow's game with the Crusaders in Wellington will give a good indication of where his young side is at.
The over-achieving Hurricanes occupy sixth on the Super Rugby ladder heading in to this weekend and have begun their campaign with four wins and three losses.
They've had little trouble scoring points but their leaky defence cost them a potential win over the Cheetahs in week six.
The Hurricanes are coming off the bye and appear well rested. They will, however, be without rookie halfback TJ Perenara (ankle) and Jack Lam (concussion) against the Crusaders.
"I think it's a good measure for how we are going this year," Smith said of the game. "Obviously they're a quality side and we've been pretty good each week just looking at an opposition and trying to see what challenges they hold for us and going out and showing our wares. It doesn't change from week to week but certainly they're a side that are smart and they're quality and they have been over the years so it'll be good for us."
The Crusaders, who beat the Stormers 31-24 last weekend, have again named Dan Carter at second five-eighths with Tom Taylor preferred in the No 10 jumper.
Taylor scored all of the Crusaders' 31 points against the Stormers, including a franchise-record eight penalties, although Carter, who will be playing his 100th Super Rugby game, penned a column during the week for therugbysite.com where he stated he wanted to remain in the game primarily as a first-five.
Two bonus points separate the Hurricanes and the seventh-placed Crusaders on the Super Rugby ladder and victory this weekend would be vital for either side.
Although the Crusaders have lost three games this year, they appear to be warming to their work and ground out the points over the Stormers.
Smith said he was wary of the Christchurch-based side who have carved out a niche of peaking at the right time in the Super Rugby competition.
"I think that's just something you get used to with the Crusaders. They've done it year in, year out. They know when they want to be playing their best footy and that's not to say they're not trying to win early in the season but they just realise they like to build during a year.
"They've got better and better the more they play together and I think it would've been nice to strike them a bit earlier. They're starting to play well and they will through the season but for us it's just a good challenge anyway."
The game marks the first time Hurricanes second-five Tim Bateman will play against his former franchise, after parting ways with the Crusaders in 2010 to play in Japan before returning to New Zealand this year.
Despite leaving training with a moon boot on his injured ankle on Thursday, Hurricanes wing Cory Jane is expected to be fit for the match.
In their previous two outings at Westpac Stadium this season, the Hurricanes are yet to taste victory after they were beaten by the Highlanders (19-17) and the Cheetahs (47-38).
- APNZBy Daniel Richardson @danrichardson21 Email Daniel