The Hurricanes have already made their first surprise move of 2017, but one which was hatched even before Christmas.

Despite starting Beauden Barrett in last Friday's hitout in Waverley, coach Chris Boyd has opted to inject the World Rugby player of the year off the pine in Saturday's Super Rugby opener against the Sunwolves in Tokyo. Otere Black, now in his third season with the franchise, will run the cutter at No 10 outside new captain TJ Perenara, with Dane Coles to also enter the fray from the bench. Ricky Riccitelli will wear his No 2 jersey.

Jordie Barrett wins the fullback berth, certainly earlier than Boyd had planned, due to Nehe Milner-Skudder's hamstring issue. He will also most likely take the long-range goalkicks, while Black will do the bulk of the kicking off the tee.

"When you have a long pre-season, you are relying on key people... Otere has run the cutter the last couple of months around our tactical stuff, and it makes sense for him to continue that," says Boyd. There are said to be "no concrete rules" from New Zealand Rugby on a graduated return to play for the All Blacks.


This represents a big opportunity to Black to run the game with authority after what was deemed to be a less than authoritative Mitre 10 Cup with Manawatu.

"It's time for him to put a stick in the sand and say 'Don't forget I'm capable as well' and that's the sort of performance we are looking at from him on Saturday," Boyd says.

James Blackwell wins a locking start, as Mark Abbott has a pre-planned family commitment this weekend. So the former and Michael Fatialofa are the only fit and available second-rowers. Ngani Laumape edges Vince Aso for the second five slot, while Blade Thomson will show his wares from No 8. A big Hurricanes season from him will arouse the interest of the All Blacks selectors. A player who can operate at No 8, 6 and lock is gold to them in a squad situation, especially now that Steven Luatua has hitched his rugby wagon to Bristol.

The brothers Savea will start from the get-go, while former All Blacks prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen makes his official return. Veteran Chris Smylie has answered an SOS as two of the halfbacks are crocked, and will be the No 9 replacement.

Utility back Wes Goosen and hooker James O'Reilly are the unlucky duo to miss the cut of the 25 who have travelled to Japan.

The Sunwolves will again be something of an unknown quantity, and their lead-in time has again been short after the Japanese Top League season finished in January. Former All Black Filo Tiatia is coach, while Aucklander Liaki Moli is into his second season with the franchise. Zippy former Highlanders halfback and current Japan No 9 Fumiaki Tanaka will seek to upset Perenara's flow.

The Hurricanes are at unbackable odds - $1.02 - for the win against the 2016 cellar dwellers.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Otere Black, TJ Perenara (capt), Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, James Blackwell, Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Chris Smylie, Beauden Barrett, Vince Aso.