Back on home turf following their tour of South Africa, the Chiefs welcome the Cheetahs this weekend in Hamilton.
A gritty win in Cape Town was followed up by defeat in Durban despite holding a man advantage over the Sharks for the majority of the contest, after two red cards for Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn in response to Hika Elliot’s own punishment.
Conditions played a major role in preventing the Chiefs’ exciting backline from clicking into gear as we’ve seen them do already many times this season and it ultimately cost them with a one-point defeat.
Only three tries in two games has been dubbed a poor return and rightly so, despite the strong defences possessed by the Stormers and Sharks, with exciting wing James Lowe the man to pay the price.
Lowe’s running from the back three has been thrilling to watch so far this year but he has been dropped from the 23 for this weekend.
It’s a bold call from the Chiefs coaching staff but a sign that they aren’t afraid to make the big decision in order to find success. This is after all a coaching group that have delivered two titles in recent years.
Key returns this week in Pauliasi Manu, Ben Tameifuna and Sonny Bill Williams are all welcome, with the Chiefs scrum expecting a stern test from the Cheetahs.
Proceedings in Christchurch were going fairly well for the Bloemfontein outfit by half-time, right in the contest at 10-14, before the Crusaders took them to the cleaners in an embarrassing second half for Naka Drotske’s side.
Four tries conceded in just six minutes, with their scrum under pressure and defence suddenly AWOL, marked a real low moment in their season after some promising highlights thus far.
A big response is required to avoid another humbling, with their pack having to front up and Joe Pietersen needing to control the game.
Cheetahs head coach Naka Drotske (speaking to Rugby365): "We worked hard this week to turn things around. We were very competitive the first 50 minutes and we had plans in place. However, after the yellow card [of fullback Willie le Roux] we deviated from the game plan. "You can't beat yourself up. We must remain positive and look forward to the next match."
The last time these sides met: One for the ages in Bloemfontein between these two sides last year, when the Cheetahs and Chiefs played out a 43-43 draw. Tim Nanai-Williams and Aaron Cruden combined for a late converted try to level the scores after 80 minutes after two penalties from Johan Goosen looked to have secured a win in the high-scoring game, but it wasn’t to be.
Players to watch: With Elliot suspended, Quentin Macdonald will be worth keeping an eye on at hooker as he looks to impress. Damian McKenzie was brilliant at fly-half in the season opener but is just as dangerous operating from full-back.
Joe Pietersen has a big role to play for the Cheetahs if it comes down to kicking points for victory, with captain Francois Uys, a physical lock, set for a tough challenge against Matt Symons and Michael Fitzgerald.
Team news: Sonny Bill Williams is the big name returnee for the Chiefs as Marshall comes in on the left wing. Charlie Ngatai is bracketed with Seta Tamanivalu while it’s all change in the front row as Manu, Macdonald and Tameifuna all start.
For the Cheetahs, Willie le Roux and prop Coenie Oosthuizen will miss the clash due to the agreement with the South African Rugby Union to rest top Boks during the tournament. Shaun Venter, Michael van der Spuy, Boom Prinsloo all come in too.
Form: Narrow wins over the Blues and Brumbies got the Chiefs’ season going, before thrashing the Crusaders. They slipped up against the Highlanders before heading on tour to South Africa. Currently three points off the top of the New Zealand Conference.
The Cheetahs meanwhile have won two of their first three matches this season, against the Sharks and Blues at home, but have lost their last three matches and conceded a tournament high 176 points to date.
Prediction: It might not be as heavy a loss as last week, but it’s hard to see the Cheetahs getting anything out of this stop on tour. Chiefs by 12.
2014: 43-43 draw in Bloemfontein
2013: Chiefs won 45-3 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 39-33 in Bloemfontein
2010: 25-25 draw in Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 28-10 in Kimberley
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai/Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons 3 Ben Tameifuna 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Johan Bardoul, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Marty McKenzie.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Danie Mienie, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Rayno Benjamin
Date: Saturday, March 28
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kickoff: 16:30 local, 14:30 AEDT, 05:30 SAST, 03:30 GMT
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Glenn Newman