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Super Rugby preview: Auckland Blues host Hurricanes at Eden Park
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The Hurricanes will aim to bolster their play-off bid when they take on the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday, with just four rounds of Super Rugby action left.
Mark Hammett's side moved up to fifth with a shock 45-8 victory over back-to-back champions Chiefs last weekend and could climb as high as second with victory over the 10th-placed Blues, dependent on surrounding results.
Hurricanes are just three points adrift of second-placed Waratahs, who face the Chiefs earlier in the day, while the Blues have won just two of their last six Super Rugby fixtures to leave them 10 points off the play-off places.
Four wins over the same period has seen the Hurricanes charge into play-off contention and as the regular season reaches a crucial juncture, Hammett will be eager to see his side make further progress.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has handed a first Super Rugby start to livewire fly-half Ihaia West for the visit of the Hurricanes this weekend.
It has been a remarkable rise for the Hawke's Bay playmaker who was brought into the Blues squad last month following the season-ending injury to Baden Kerr.
George Moala is named on the left wing ahead of Tevita Li who has been stood down for a breach of internal team protocol, while veteran half-back Piri Weepu has overcome a groin strain to be named on the bench.
Meanwhile, Hurricanes fly-half Beauden Barrett will celebrate his 50th match for the franchise as he lines up opposite West.
"I grew up watching this team - I watched my dad be a part of it - so to reach 50 games for the Canes is a pretty special moment for me," Barrett said.
Coach Mark Hammett has again named a similar side to that which has played the bulk of the season, with the only changes forced by injury.
Matt Proctor will start at full-back in place of Andre Taylor, while Ben Franks' groin injury is still being monitored.
Replacement hookers Ash Dixon and Motu Matu'u are both in question and Reggie Goodes will be first choice to cover the possibility of both Franks and the hookers being unavailable, with Mike Kainga and Brendon Edmonds named as back up if required.
Blues: 15 Visinia, 14 Halai, 13 Ahki, 12 Nonu, 11 Moala, 10 West, 9 Hall; 1 Woodwock, 2 Mealamu, 3 Faumuina, 4 Tuipulotu, 5 Donnelly, 6 Saili, 7 Braid (capt) 8 Kaino.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Albert Nikoro
Hurricanes: 15 Proctor, 14 Jane, 13 Smith (capt), 12 Leiua, 11 J Savea, 10 Barrett, 9 Perenara; 1 Franks/Goodes, 2 Coles, 3 Toomaga-Allen, 4 Thrush, 5 Broadhurst, 6 Levave, 7 Lam, 8 Vito.
Replacements: 16. Dixon/Matu'u/Goodes/Kainga, 17 Eves, 18 Goodes/Edmonds, 19 Shields, 20 A Savea, 21 Smylie, 22 Bateman, 23 Marshall
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