Preview: Chiefs v Blues

Date published: April 3 2015

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The Blues face another daunting task when they take on their Super Rugby neighbours the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

Sir John Kirwan's troops are languishing at the bottom of the table and are the only side who haven't registered a victory yet in this year's tournament.

And judging from the Chiefs' effort in their last match against the Cheetahs – which they won 37-27 – that situation is unlikely to change this weekend.

The 2012 and 2013 champions' second-half effort paved the way to victory in that clash with experienced players like Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam leading the way with solid performances.

Dave Rennie's troops will head into this clash brimming with confidence as their performances in this fixture in recent years gives them a psychological edge over the Auckland-based side – the Chiefs have beaten the Blues in eight successive matches since 2012.

If you're going by the tournament's statistics, then the Chiefs will cruise to victory. They are amongst the leading attacking teams this season and have already scored eighteen tries in their six previous matches, second only to the Brumbies and table-topping Hurricanes who have scored nineteen five-pointers apiece.

The men from Hamilton have also made the most clean breaks (76) and gained the most metres on attack (3496) in the tournament and have the second highest carries (780) and defenders beaten (145).

Remarkably, the Blues are fourth highest on metres gained on attack (2862) and have beaten the third most defenders (126) so far this season. Those statistics are a clear indication that the Blues have been struggling with their finishing.

But although they are still winless, the Blues have not disgraced themselves and were competitive in all their previous matches. Last weekend's 23-11 loss against the Waratahs in Sydney was their biggest so far this season and they will be hoping to finally break their duck this weekend.

The last time these team met: The Chiefs secured a narrow 23-18 victory in Albany in Round One in what was arguably the Blues' best performance of the season. Ihaia West scored all the Blues' points via six penalties but the Chiefs sealed victory with tries in the first-half from their wings Bryce Heem and James Lowe which paved the way to victory.

Players to watch: Chiefs number eight Michael Leitch has come to the fore with several impressive performances in recent weeks. A strong ball carrier, Leitch is sure to prove a handful on attack but is also a hard grafter who doesn't shy away from doing the dirty work for his side.

For the Blues, All Blacks utility back Charles Piutau will play at full-back where he is always dangerous with ball in hand. If he finds the ball in space, Piutau can wreak havoc against any defence and the Chiefs' defence will have to be at their best if they want to keep him quiet.

Team news: The Chiefs have been boosted by the return from injury of World Rugby's Player of the Year Brodie Retallick. Retallick's selection in the second-row is one of several changes with hooker Hika Elliot and prop Mitchell Graham also being named in a new-look front-row. Amongst the backs, Augustine Pulu returns at scrum-half while Andrew Horrell lines up at outside centre and James Lowe and Tom Marshall start on the wings.

The Blues have recalled veteran All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu to their front-row while Ofa Tu'ungafasi starts at loosehead prop in place of Tony Woodcock, who is injured. In the back-line, Pita Ahki makes his first start of the season at outside centre where he takes over from George Moala, who will wear the number twelve jersey. Jamison Gibson-Park also comes in at scrum-half and Tevita Li is back on the wing.

Form: The Chiefs returned to the victory trail in style with a bonus-point win over the Cheetahs last weekend, after they suffered a narrow loss away to the Sharks in the previous round. Their only other blemish was a loss to the Highlanders in Hamilton in Round Four.

The Blues' poor form is well documented with the last of their six straight losses being registered against the defending champions, the Waratahs, in Sydney last weekend.

Prediction: Although this will be an entertaining spectacle, the Chiefs will have too much ammunition for their visitors. Chiefs to win by 10 points!

Previous results:

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
2011: Chiefs won 16-11 in Auckland
2012: Blues won 16-13 in Hamilton

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden,9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Bryce Heem.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina/Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattle, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Francis Saili.

Date: Saturday, Saturday, April 4
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT 17:35 AEDT, 08:35 SAST)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Shane McDermott
TMO: Ben Skeen

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