Victory for the Chiefs over the Blues on Saturday could create a handsome lead for the champions if things go their way at Newlands.
Victory for the Chiefs over the Blues in Mount Maunganui on Saturday could create a handsome lead for the champions if things go their way at Newlands.
The Chiefs are the top points scorers in the Super Rugby competition this season, averaging an impressive 34.8 points per game from their five matches.
Not bad for a side that many thought would struggle in an attacking sense without Sonny Bill Williams in midfield. Andrew Horrell was superb last week and yet is moved to bench duty for Round 7 as Bundee Aki comes in outside Aaron Cruden. It seems coach Dave Rennie always had a few aces up his sleeve.
Positives just keep on coming for the champions as Richard Kahui's impressive return off the bench last week was like he'd never been away. He dons 13 while Sam Cane is the back-row on the bench on Saturday in their continued rotation policy, as Fritz Lee and Tanerau Latimer are alongside Liam Messam.
Losing Tawera Kerr-Barlow for six weeks is a blow however but with that news comes an opportunity for Augustine Pulu, with Brendon Leonard the back-up. Speaking of which the bench is one of the strongest in the competition as they have options aplenty that include prop Ben Tameifuna, Horrell and Cane.
And so we come to their opponents.
Sir John Kirwan rightly fumed at how his men went to sleep during the second-half in Sydney, his team losing despite being 24-10 ahead at the interval. That defeat was not expected – particularly at half-time – but they must put that blow at the 'Tahs to one side otherwise the Chiefs will compound it.
There is no escaping the fact that last week's game was there for the winning and after a strong start to the season, now we will see their character.
Rene Ranger needs to continue to lead this young backline while cutting out his own silly mistakes and Chris Noakes and Piri Weepu need to get on top against Cruden and Pulu. There are also tests for Steven Luatua and Peter Saili, but if they can recapture their showings from Rounds 1 and 2 then a victory is not unthinkable. Far from it at a Mount Maunganui venue that may be less daunting than the cowbells of Waikato Stadium. It should be good.
Prediction: The Chiefs have been playing like the champions they are in 2013. Home win by 7!
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Date: Saturday, March 30
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Venue: ASB Baypark Stadium, Mount Maunganui
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)