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    Hurricanes safe on top

    2015-03-26 08:28

    Wellington - The Hurricanes are poised to open up a huge lead in the Super 15 competition this weekend, despite resting a galaxy of stars when they tackle the struggling Melbourne Rebels.

    But there is the prospect of a shake-up in the chasing pack with the Brumbies having a bye, and intriguing match-ups between the Highlanders and Stormers and the Bulls and Crusaders.

    The 'Canes, already two points clear of the non-playing Brumbies and six ahead of the Stormers, have made six changes for Friday which include giving All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Ben Franks a break while hooker Dane Coles is injured.

    However, that is unlikely to derail the only unbeaten side in the competition as they begin to fulfil their New Zealand rugby obligation to rest their All Blacks for at least two games this World Cup year.

    "It's highly unlikely we will rest our All Blacks against any of the New Zealand teams," said coach Chris Boyd whose Hurricanes have played the Auckland Blues and Highlanders and have six derby games at the back end of the season.

    "We looked at what was coming up, the Rebels, Stormers, Waratahs, Reds and Sharks, so we've got to try and get our rests in amongst those games."

    For the Hurricanes to take out so much firepower should motivate the Rebels who have won only two of five games, but co-captain Scott Higginbotham played down the significance.

    "The Hurricanes have great depth in their squad and you take one bloke off and the next one is ready to step up and fill his spot. We don't see it as an advantage," said Higginbotham, who will be playing his 100th Super match.

    The second-placed Brumbies have a bye knowing they are secure at the head of the Australian conference but in danger of slipping behind the top South African side.

    That role is currently filled by the Stormers, who are away to the Highlanders and under pressure to win in Dunedin with the Coastal Sharks only one point behind and the Bulls one point further back.

    Like the Stormers, the sixth-placed Highlanders are coming off a loss and knowing their position is precarious with the Crusaders right behind them.

    The Highlanders have made two changes, neither All Blacks related, to the side that narrowly lost to the Hurricanes last week while the Stormers return after a bye having lost to the Waikato Chiefs two weeks ago.

    "Our loss to the Chiefs was obviously a disappointing one for us, but it's up to us to bounce back on tour," said coach Allister Coetzee.

    The Crusaders showed glimpses of their best in the second-half of their eight-try demolition job on the Cheetahs last week.

    But they will need a full 80-minute effort if they are to buck the trend where the last eight matches they have played against the Bulls have been won by the home side.

    The Sharks, having beaten the Chiefs last week in Durban, fancy their chances of making the top three as they stay at home aiming for a seventh straight win over the Western Force.

    In the remaining games, the Chiefs return from South Africa to play the touring Cheetahs, the Waratahs are at home to a Blues side looking for their first win of the year, while the Reds host the Lions.

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