Preview: Blues v Chiefs

Date published: February 13 2015

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The Blues will look to end a seven-game losing streak against the Chiefs in Saturday's all-Kiwi Super Rugby clash in Albany.

The Blues were near-unbeatable at Eden Park last year, losing just one game there, their final match of the season against…the Chiefs, who have become somewhat of a hoodoo team for John Kirwin's outfit.

This game will be in Albany though, where the Blues suffered their only other home loss last year, against the Sharks.

It should be an intriguing battle as the tournament's most dangerous counter-attacking side takes on one of best defences. Just nine of the Chiefs’ tries last season came from the first-phase of play, fewer than any other side in Super Rugby. Meanwhile, the Blues had the strongest defence, completing a competition – high 88 percent of their tackles in 2014.

The Chiefs had the worst discipline in 2014 however, conceding a competition-high 12.8 penalties per game.

The Chiefs have a 46 percent win rate against compatriots when playing away from home, while the Blues boast a 63 percent win rate against fellow New Zealand sides at home.

The headlines have been dominated by the return of Sonny Bill Williams and the arrival of former All Blacks wing Hosea Gear (who has not been picked this week) but the Chiefs may need some time to settle with no less than 14 new players brought into the squad by coach Dave Rennie.

"We've got a hell of a lot of depth in our squad and everyone wants to play," said Rennie.

"That's a challenge every year and even though we probably rotate our squad more than any other side to create competition and depth, keeping everyone happy if they are not getting opportunities is tough."

The last time these team met: The most recent clash between these sides saw fewer points than any of their 22 other meetings since 1996. The match in Auckland finished 11-8 to the Chiefs, who led 3-0 at halftime.

Players to watch: In the absence of Aaron Cruden, keep an eye on 19-year-old Damian McKenzie in the Chiefs 10 jumper as he looks to follow up an excellent ITM Cup season. Likewise, his opposite number, 23-year-old Ihaia West is a potential star of the future.

Team news: The Blues will be led by new captain Jerome Kaino, while former All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowan will earn his 124th Super Rugby cap, but his first for the Blues since returning to New Zealand from England. A number of All Blacks have been rested by both sides. Keven Mealamu and Patrick Tuipulotu won’t run out for the Blues but centurion Tony Woodcock returns to Super Rugby for the first time in eight months. Sonny Bill Williams is back in the Chiefs’ line-up but Brodie Retallick, Aaron Cruden and Liam Messam are absent. Hooker Hika Elliot makes a remarkable return after his career was threatened by a neck injury a year ago.

Form: In their last 14 games of last season, the Blues followed back-to-back defeats with two consecutive victories. The Chiefs recorded just two away victories in 2014, but one of these came against the Blues. The Chiefs have won their season opener in each of the last two seasons. The only time these team met in Albany before, the Blues came out on top.

Prediction: Early-season games are always hard to predict, but the Chiefs' record against the Blues is hard to ignore. They won by over 20 points in the pre-season friendly between these teams, so we'll back the Chiefs to win by five points.

Previous results:
2014: Blues 8-11 Chiefs in Auckland
2014: Chiefs 32-20 Blues in Hamilton
2013: Blues 16-26 Chiefs in Auckland
2013: Chiefs 23-16 Blues in Mount Maunganui
2012: Chiefs won 41-34, Auckland
2012: Chiefs won 29-14, Hamilton

The teams:

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 George Moala/Hamish Northcot, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott/Ben Lam

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Bryce Heem

Date: Saturday, February 14
Venue: QBE Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Kane McBride

With thanks to Opta Sports for the statistical information

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