Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes
Friday, June 12, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Played: 25, 1996-2015
Chiefs wins: 11
Hurricanes wins: 13
Chiefs points: 565
Hurricanes points: 584
Last played: Hurricanes 22 Chiefs 18, 16.05.15 in Wellington
Round 18 teams: http://bit.ly/1TdaLKQ
Form: While it has been a strong season for the Chiefs, we are approaching crunch time, and there are a couple of statistics that the two-time champions will be keen to change.
In three matches against fellow New Zealand contenders, they have lost, while they have the worst impetus of the top six teams, losing three of their last five.
Victory against the Hurricanes would give the 2012 and 2013 winners a major boost, they have won four of their last seven in the H2H, but the Wellington based outfit has claimed 13 wins and from 25 matches (with one draw) between the sides.
And this Canes team is arguably the most formidable we have ever seen.
Early in the season there was a heavy focus on defence, and as the year has progressed all other aspects have shone – there are few chinks in this impressive side's armour and many believe that only the Hurricanes themselves can stop an irrepressible charge to the 2015 championship.
Key players: With Hika Elliot and Sam Cane out of the starting pack the Chiefs won’t have all of their forward firepower available.
However All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam, sparkling against the Reds last week, get another start and will be keen to remind the Hurricanes that they are among the kingpins of the New Zealand forward scene.
SBW’s return gives the home outfit their big gun out wide again, and Chiefs fans will be keen to see Williams’ partnership with Maori All Black captain Charlie Ngatai.
The Hurricanes though, despite the power of the two-time trophy winner’s pack, won’t be overawed as the Wellington based forwards haven’t been overawed by any opposition this year.
The class of Dane Coles, Ben Franks and Victor Vito isn’t under question – it has been the contributions from Brad Shields, James Broadhurst and Reg Goodes that have given the Canes their point of difference.
Purists would have loved to have seen Sonny Bill come up against Ma’a Nonu but it is not to be (rested) which means his long-time partner Conrad Smith draws level as the most capped Hurricane ever.
Beauden Barrett is still missing resulting in James Marshall getting another chance at 10, while out wide the visiting team boast awesome pedigree, TJ Perenara and Julian Savea have been firing on all cylinders while for Nehe Milner-Skudder it almost seems a case of when, not if, he will be called into the All Blacks environment.
Squad update: Four local Amber and Black players are in the match day side that has multiple changes in what is the Chiefs fourth Investec Super Rugby match in Taranaki in 13 months.
Pauliasi Manu, Quentin MacDonald and Ben Tameifuna will combine to make the starting front row with Hika Elliot being rested. Lock Matt Symons also returns to the run-on fifteen.
Michael Leitch will shift to flanker while All Black Sam Cane takes his second pre-arranged break and Maama Vaipulu will wear the No 8 jersey.
Brad Weber will take over the starting halfback duties this week. Sonny Bill Williams makes his long awaited return to rugby and will be joined by James Lowe or Hosea Gear on the wing.
Seven different players are added to the reserves.
Taranaki’s Rhys Marshall and Mitch Crosswell will join Siate Tokolahi, Jamie Mackintosh, Michael Fitzgerald, Augustine Pulu and Andrew Horrell on the pine.
Saturday’s match against the Chiefs will be Smith’s 124th appearance for the ‘Canes, a number Nonu brought up against the Highlanders in Napier last weekend.
Smith achieved a milestone earlier this year when he and Nonu became the most capped midfield pairing for the ‘Canes, while last week he also became the most successful Hurricanes’ captain, winning 33 matches in charge. The record was previously held by Rodney So’oialo, who led the team to 32 victories during his time as captain.
Coach Chris Boyd has shuffled his team slightly for this week’s Taranaki clash, bringing Mark Abbott and Taranaki-born Callum Gibbins into the starting line-up, along with Brad Shields who came off the bench last week.
Boyd has decided to let hardworking forwards James Broadhurst and Ardie Savea keep their jackets on a little while longer this week, with the pair having started 13 and 12 matches respectively, out of a possible 15.
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