Preview: Chiefs v Force
Thursday, April 23, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Played: 8 (2006-14, DNP 2011)
Chiefs wins: 6
Force wins: 2
Chiefs points: 236
Force points: 150
Last match: Force 18 Chiefs 15, 22.03.14 in Perth
Round 11 teams: http://bit.ly/1QmWaLs
Form: The Chiefs, after a slight wobble a few weeks ago, are back with some red hot form, quietly establishing a three-game winning streak against the Cheetahs, Blues and Crusaders.
While the two-time champions might not be blowing opposition away, they remain one of the tournament’s best offensive units, leading clean breaks (91) and offloads (143).
Frighteningly for the rest of Super Rugby’s field, this Chiefs hybrid is brimming with similarities to the 2012 and 2013 editions, they need little possession or territory to make team’s pay.
The Force are in the middle of a tough season considering their franchise record nine victories in 2014, their upset 25-13 win in Sydney at the beginning of the year remains their only success.
Eight straight defeats is hardly ideal form heading to Waikato Stadium, while the Chiefs might be keen for a bit of revenge considering their 15-18 loss in Perth last year.
Key Players: The Chiefs begin life without Aaron Cruden for the remainder of the season, but the presence of the McKenzie brothers shows the depth of the squad.
Sam Cane has been one of the best flankers in New Zealand so far in 2015, working in wonderful tandem with Michael Leitch and Johan Bardoul.
Out wide the hosts will be up against a side that is confident on defence, but with Sonny Bill Williams and Charlie Ngatai arguably the form midfield of the competition, the tourists will need to keep the missed count minimal.
The return of Matt Hodgson, perhaps the best defensive player last season, is a big boost to the Force.
Pek Cowan and Steve Mafi are part of a tight five that won't be overawed by a rival unit containing Brodie Retallick, while the Force's set piece is a lot better than their table position suggests.
The backline is explosive, headlined by the meat grabbing Honey Badger himself.
If Nick Cummins and Kyle Godwin get some ball, their nimble feet will explore the Chiefs defences.
Squad Update: Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made several changes to his side. Prop Siate Tokolahi gets a start in the front row with lock Matt Symons taking over the captaincy duties with Johan Bardoul replacing Liam Messam who will miss this match due to the agreed All Blacks break requirements.
Marty McKenzie earns his first start of the season in the No 10 jersey, taking over from Aaron Cruden who is awaiting knee surgery.
Tim Nanai Williams moves to the left wing with Bryce Heem starting on the right wing. Ben Tameifuna moves to the bench and is joined by Damian McKenzie.
Prop Pekahou Cowan will become the second player to play 100 Super Rugby matches for the Force.
The 28-year-old loosehead was one of the inaugural members of the Force and joins captain Matt Hodgson (113 caps) as the only players to have reached the 100-match mark for the Western Australian club.
Meanwhile, Hodgson will make his first Super Rugby appearance for the year on Friday when he returns from a hamstring injury sustained in a pre-season fixture against the Asia Pacific Dragons.
The Force skipper will return to his familiar openside flank and join No.8 Ben McCalman and blindside flanker Angus Cottrell in a back-row combination that started in 11 of 16 matches during the 2014 season.
A foot injury to interim captain Sam Wykes sees Steve Mafi shift from side of the scrum into the second row.
In the backline, Ian Prior will start his first match of 2015, replacing scrumhalf Alby Mathewson, who has been sidelined with a knee injury.
On the bench, Cottelsoe scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens is in line to make his Asteron Life Super Rugby debut after a knee injury – requiring a reconstruction – scuppered his 2014 season. Flanker Kane Koteka makes his return after being rested against the Stormers following a concussion while big lock Wilhelm Steenkamp will also start from the Western Force reserves list.
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