Preview: Chiefs v Blues

Date published: April 7 2016

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Riding high at the Super Rugby summit, the Chiefs will look to continue their impressive start to the campaign with a win over the Blues.

Their most recent victory, a 48-23 hammering of the Brumbies that yet again saw them cut loose in the second half, was a thing of beauty.

Damian McKenzie was electric once more while Aaron Cruden stepped up his recovery with a superb display that saw him set up three scores. 

What's worth noting is this backline is one of, if not the, lightest and shortest in the competition. Isn't that a refreshing fact in this day and age of believing that bigger is better in rugby. McKenzie, Cruden, Brad Weber and James Lowe are certainly rubbishing such words.

McKenzie tops the try and points chart while Lowe has the most metres in the competition. Both are thoroughly enjoying this season start.

Friday's opponents have been far from as slick and know they will get punished if they don't improve in Hamilton on Friday, with last week's win over a second string Jaguares sorely needed. While it wasn't pretty, it's worth noting that no one has beaten the Argentines handsomely.

What won't make good reading for Tana Umaga's side is that the Chiefs have won their last nine matches against the Blues, which is their longest streak against any opponent in Super Rugby. And in this kind of recent form, few would bet against them making it ten in Hamilton.

The Blues are missing powerful All Black lock Patrick Tuipulotu and again choose to leave Akira Ioane and George Moala on the bench, with the hope they're still in the game just after half-time.

Unfortunately that might not be the case as it's not just after the break that the table toppers have been firing in, as they have scored twelve tries in the first half so far this season, the most of any team, while the Blues have conceded seven tries in the same period, the equal most of any New Zealand team. It's therefore no surprise that the Chiefs are heavy favourites.

The last time these teams met: The Chiefs ran out 23-16 winners in their most recent meeting which came in April 2015. James Lowe and Tom Marshall scored their tries while Aaron Cruden kicked 13 points. In reply, Steven Luatua crossed for the Blues who left with a point.

Players to watch: The viewer and of course the Blues will need to keep a close eye on Damian McKenzie as this season's top performer looks to continue his fine form. Able to unlock a defence at will with his quick feet and slick handling, McKenzie is turning heads of fans and international coaches alike. Also watch out for the returning Brodie Retallick, who is likely to take no time at all getting up to speed.

For the Blues the class of tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina is always worth monitoring as the All Black mixes power with touches of class. The visitors to Hamilton on Friday will first hope their man gets the better of Mitchell Graham at the set-piece to limit the ball getting to that Chiefs backline, but as we have seen over recent rounds the Super Rugby leaders can do wonderful things even when going backwards.

Team news: The Chiefs welcome back All Black pair Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird to their second-row while Atu Moli is given his first start at tighthead prop, Maama Vaipulu is promoted from the bench to start at blindside flank along with impressive wing Shaun Stevenson.

The Blues have handed lock Hoani Matenga his first Super Rugby start, coming in for the injured Patrick Tuipulotu. Prop Sam Prattley also gets his first start of the season, coming in for Nic Mayhew, who is out for two to three weeks with a knee injury suffered last weekend.

Form: The Chiefs have won their last four games in the competition after that loss to the Lions. They are in red hot form at the moment. Meanwhile the Blues are unbeaten in their last two outings after a draw against the Reds was bettered by that victory over the Jagaures.

Prediction: It's tough to see anything but a home win as the incoming Chiefs players will all add something to their game. Chiefs by 20.

Previous results:

2015: Chiefs won 23-16 in Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-18 in Albany
2014: Chiefs won 11-8 in Auckland
2014: Chiefs won 32-20 in New Plymouth
2013: Chiefs won 26-16 in Auckland
2013: Chiefs won 23-16 in Mount Maunganui
2012: Chiefs won 41-34 in Auckland
2012: Chiefs won 29-14 in Hamilton

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Maama Vaipulu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Sam McNicol

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Namatahi Waa, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala

Date: Friday, April 8
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Referees: Chris Pollock, Kane McBride
TMO: Shane McDermott

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