Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes

Date published: June 12 2015

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Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth will be treated to a derby on Saturday as the Chiefs, looking to secure a home qualifier, take on the Hurricanes.

Even a bonus-point victory for the Chiefs may not guarantee them a home tie, as much depends on how the Highlanders fare at the Blues on Friday.

Locked on 48 points and with 10 wins apiece, just one point scored keeps the men from Waikato above the Dunedin outfit in a fascinating finale. And on form the likelihood is that the Highlanders will be too strong for the Blues, which would put the pressure on the Chiefs 24 hours later.

What makes the Hurricanes such a formidable opponent this season is the fact they have few weak areas and indeed spells in the match where they could possibly slack off. In fact, remarkably they're the only side in the competition to score 100 plus points in each quarter of their games.

Non-All Blacks such as Reggie Goodes, James Broadhurst, Brad Shields and Nehe Milner-Skudder deserve as much praise as their internationals in 2015 as they have all contributed to a man in this stunning turnaround in form. Amazingly they could finish 20 points clear in the final table.

Not letting their form slide is clearly something head coach Chris Boyd is conscious of and it is noticeable that many key players remain in a game they don't need to win. Granted they have a week off coming up but the decision to start TJ Perenara, Julian Savea and others is one that suggests they want to land psychological blows ahead of the Finals Series whilst also finishing with as many regular-season points as possible.

The Chiefs might have hoped for something of a second-string 'Canes teamsheet on Thursday's announcement but the return of Sonny Bill Williams and possibly James Lowe gives them a boost to take into the weekend. As we all know, when the Chiefs click, few can stop them. Can the 'Canes?

The last time these teams met: The Round 14 clash was a memorable one for Ma'a Nonu as his two tries saw him reach 50 in Super Rugby, with his side holding on to win 22-18 in Wellington. The Chiefs were ahead at the break thanks to Charlie Ngatai's 40th-minute score but Ardie Savea and Nonu struck before Sam Cane's try with five minutes to play prompted a late onslaught from the Chiefs. Fortunately for the 'Canes they held on.

Players to watch: He has had to watch in recent weeks as Augustine Pulu tears opposition defences to pieces but Brad Weber is back in the XV on Saturday, looking to pick up from where he left off. Weber has been superb at the base for the Chiefs this season and his personal battle with try machine TJ Perenara will be one to watch. Elsewhere for the Chiefs, Ben Tameifuna will hope for a big game on the week his exit was revealed.

The Hurricanes have moved Nehe Milner-Skudder to full-back this Saturday and arguably the newcomer of the season will be a threat in New Plymouth. Lethal with ball in hand due to his step, change of pace and slick hands, the 'Cane will hope to combine with wings Julian Savea and Cory Jane.

Team news: Sonny Bill Williams makes his long-awaited return to the Chiefs side this week and will line up in midfield alongside the consistent Charlie Ngatai. In a much-changed side, Pauliasi Manu, Quentin MacDonald and Ben Tameifuna start in the front-row with lock Matt Symons named in the side. Michael Leitch will shift to flanker and Maama Vaipulu will wear the number eight jersey. James Lowe is bracketed in the side at wing.

The Hurricanes are without Ma'a Nonu and Beauden Barrett so Rey Lee-Lo and James Marshall start at centre and fly-half respectively. Coach Chris Boyd has shuffled his squad slightly, bringing Mark Abbott and Taranaki-born Callum Gibbins into the starting line-up, along with Brad Shields.

Form: The Chiefs have lost three of their last five games in the competition, which means their destiny is not in their own hands in terms of a home Qualifier. Few would write off the former champions of lifting the trophy on July 4 and with must-win games on the horizon, watch them go.

What can you say about the Hurricanes? Two losses all year has seen them run away with the regular-season bragging rights. A 35-18 defeat to the Crusaders on May 29 was their only recent blip but any losses before the knockout stages will be taken with a pinch of salt for the high-fliers.

Prediction: It's clear the Hurricanes aren't keen to rest all of their big guns so as to avoid a dip in form. But we just fancy the Chiefs by 5!

Previous results:

2015: Hurricanes won 22-18 in Wellington
2014: Chiefs won 24-16 in Hamilton
2014: Hurricanes won 45-8 in Wellington
2013: Chiefs won 34-22 in Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 17-12 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 28-25 in Wellington
2012: Chiefs won 33-14 in Hamilton

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe/Hosea Gear, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Mitchell Crosswell, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Damian McKenzie.

Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Sam McNicol.

Date: Saturday, 13 June
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Shane McDermott, Paul Williams
TMO: Chris Wratt

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