Preview: Chiefs v Brumbies

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Friday, February 20, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, February 20, 17:35 (NZDT)

H2H: Played 20, Chiefs 7, Brumbies 12, Draw 1

Last time they met: Brumbies 41 Chiefs 23, 25.04.14 in Canberra

Squad update: All Blacks blindside Liam Messam will captain the two-time champions while Aaron Cruden starts at first five-eighth. Investec Super Rugby centurion Hosea Gear makes his Chiefs debut on the left wing while World Rugby Player of the Year Brodie Retallick will likely get some match time off the bench.

Other changes to the starting XV see Jamie Mackintosh line up alongside Hika Elliot and Siate Tokolahi in the front row – while out wide Tom Marshall and Tim Nanai-Williams are unavailable due to injury, with James Lowe and Bryce Heem partnering Gear in the back three.

The Brumbies are without David Pocock who made a stunning return to action last weekend, his syndesmosis injury results in Jarrad Butler taking the number seven jersey.

Joining the team in the only other change is number eight Ita Vaea.

An inspirational story, the last time Vaea started for the Brumbies was under Jake White in 2012 and the Tongan powerhouse hasn’t featured at the back of the scrum since 2011. 

The big man has battled a serious heart condition for more than two years, with last week’s 30 minute effort against the Reds his first Super Rugby time since coming from the bench to beat the Waratahs in Sydney back in round 15 of 2012.

The rest of the team remains unchanged.

The Chiefs were impressive last week with their 23-18 win over the Blues, even if the hosts were able to scrap with their great rivals effectively for the bulk of the contest.

Damian McKenzie’s masterclass at first five-eighth was ranked by many as the finest individual performance of the round, while the Chiefs forwards looked the business despite missing many of their regulars.

However the Brumbies were unstoppable against the Reds winning 47-3 in a scintillating performance from the hosts, while the Queenslanders were given a torrid lesson in the art of retaining possession and controlling a match.

If the ACT based outfit is able to bring the same levels of physical intensity to New Plymouth the Chiefs will need to be prepared to bleed in the trenches.

Key Players: McKenzie’s form was such that coach Dave Rennie would have agonised during the selection meeting, but the pedigree of the opponents demanded that All Blacks be reintroduced to the setup.

Matt Symons will be backing his ability to get down and dirty in the frontal exchanges, as will new man Mackintosh, while it is likely that heavyweights Ben Tameifuna and Retallick will be called into the fray.

On paper there is so much to like about the Chiefs backs Sonny Bill and Charlie Ngatai have considerable options around them – while Augustine Pulu, McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu add possibilities the Brumbies won’t be too familiar with.

Yet the tourists boast one of the best starting XVs in the competition, coached by Stephen Larkham whose impeccable game management is beginning to filter through to the team, building on the sound foundations of Jake White.

Their pack will move around the park will no fuss, but Nic White and Matt Toomua are the brains trust to watch, they made the Reds field generals look like babies last week with their absolute control.

Christian Lealiifano and Tevita Kuridrani would be widely considered to be the finest midfield in Super Rugby when it comes to balance, with a heady blend of strategy and sting which will test the lauded qualities of SBW and co.

Former Wallabies captain Stephen Moore provides over a century of experience for the team off the pine, while back row forward Sean Doyle could make his Brumbies debut off the bench.