The Queensland Reds have put Super Rugby’s form playmaker, Beauden Barrett, in the cross-hairs as they aim to end a 16-year curse against the Hurricanes.
The Reds have never won at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium and know they must heavily pressure Barrett to celebrate skipper James Horwill’s 100th match in style and breathe life into their play-off hopes.
All Blacks winger Julian Savea and fellow wrecking ball Alapati Leuia have attracted most attention for the in-form Hurricanes but it’s the slender five-eighth who has expertly pulled their strings.
Barrett, 22, is poised to start in the New Zealand No.10 jersey in their June Test series with Dan Carter unavailable and Aaron Cruden (broken thumb) injured, but will be targeted by the Reds.
Queensland were guilty of being passive in defence against the Brumbies but will employ fast-rushing tactics to swamp Barrett and deny inside centre Leiua room to move.
If they don’t the competition’s best attacking team, boasting 29 points per game, can rip them apart.
“Barrett’s come into his own and they rely on him a lot,” Reds centre Mike Harris told AAP.
“He probably passes the most, runs the most and kicks the most in their whole team.
“He’s definitely a key man for them. We have a couple of things that we are going to try and do to minimise him.”
Harris has the big job to lead the defensive line up from the midfield after coach Richard Graham had no hesitation in returning him from an Achilles problem, replacing Anthony Fainga’a.
Tough tackling Fainga’a has traditionally been the Reds defensive linchpin but Kiwi-born Harris has filled the role and can provide extra ball-playing skill.
Without a win in Wellington since a memorable Athletic Park comeback in 1998, Graham is desperate for a better start after bumbling to 12-0 and 20-3 deficits against the Force and Brumbies, respectively.
To that end, he’s rushed aggressive prop Ben Daley back from injury to add physicality against a hard-working Hurricanes pack that fails to get the wraps of their backline.
As well as inspirational second-rower Horwill’s 100th cap, the Reds need a big game from another milestone man with 50-game centre Ben Tapuai opposing Conrad Smith.
Graham revealed Tapuai had returned to the form that made him a 2012 Wallaby after improving his training ethic but still wanted him to be more assertive in attack.