History, form and talent are against the Melbourne Rebels as they contemplate upsetting the Hurricanes in Wellington tomorrow.
Not only that, the Hurricanes are planning to be more clinical after a loose last 20 in Tokyo. That spells more bad news for the Rebels, who have some useful, and familiar names in their 23. Former Crusaders and Fiji No 10 Ben Volavola is on the bench, alongside former Blues and Bay of Plenty lock Culum Retallick. Replacement hooker Pat Leafa was the Auckland rake in 2009, while first five Jackson Garden-Bachop returns to his 2016 home ground, where he kicked goals from everywhere for the Wellington Lions. He will have his work cut out marking Beauden Barrett, who has his first start.
The Hurricanes have won this fixture four times out of five, the only reverse in 2011, and only the most optimistic punter will be predicting anything other than at least a decisive 30-point victory. A solid 10-point start on the log will be needed before they hook into New Zealand Conference clashes with the Chiefs and Highlanders.
Captain Dane Coles, while feeling for Blade Thomson and his shoulder injury, feels content that Nehe Milner-Skudder is back in harness in the No 15 jersey after a false start last week.
"He's fizzing to go. He showed some pretty good signs at the 10s. He's just a good guy to have. He's very professional and works hard behind the scenes. That's good for the young guys to see," Coles says.
"We'll have to work a bit harder to score points," Coles adds, in something of an understatement. "Just because the Blues beat them (by 56-18), we will have to respect them and can't just look at an outcome."
Milner-Skudder suits up for his first official Hurricanes' match since the 2015 final against the Highlanders.
"I'm extremely pumped... to be back at home at the Cake Tin, it's kind of been a long time coming," says Milner-Skudder. "It was a little bit frustrating not being able to go away in round one but I think it was the right call."
Milner-Skudder will not be the only outside back for the Rebels to watch closely. Julian Savea is the obvious one, especially as he looks sharp, but right wing Vince Aso, a late sub for Cory Jane in Tokyo, scored a brilliant solo try via a chip and regather. Aucklander Aso can shift and is more than just a midfielder.
"The Rebels will be hurting after last week, and we know we will find a different beast this weekend and will have to be on our game," says Milner-Skudder.
Hurricanes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, James Blackwell, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles (c), Chris Eves
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins, Chris Smylie, Otere Black, Beauden Barrett
Rebels: Jack Debreczeni, Marika Koroibete, Mitch Inman, Reece Hodge, Tom English, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Nic Stirzaker (c), Amanaki Mafi, Colby Faingaa, Jordy Reid, Lopeti Timani, Steve Cummins, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Cruze Ah-Nau
Reserves: Pat Leafa, Tom Moloney, Tyrel Lomax, Culum Retallick, Jake Schatz, Ben Meehan, Sione Tuipulotu, Ben Volavola