Preview: Chiefs v Lions

Date published: May 2 2014

The Chiefs will be keen to return to the victory trail when they host the Lions at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

The Chiefs will be keen to return to the victory trail when they host the Lions at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

Recent results suggest this is the ideal time to play the Chiefs, especially at their Hamilton stronghold.

Having trundled to the top of the New Zealand Conference early in the season, barely breaking sweat along the way, Dave Rennie's men were crushed by the Brumbies a week ago after being toppled at home by Kiwi rivals the Crusaders in Round 10.

When you're the defending champions, this isn't good enough. Yes, all teams go through patches of poor form. And yes, the Chiefs' poor patch hasn't, until the last fortnight, been especially poor. But losing two on trot could well be the impetus, the rocket up the posterior the Waikato boys need to jolt their season into life.

Rennie has certainly pulled no punches with his team selection, not so much wielding the axe as taking an industrial guillotine to the lineup that were trounced in Canberra. Out go Ben Tameifuna, Nick Crosswell and Andrew Horrell as part of a whopping 14 changes to the matchday squad. Tim Nanai-Williams moves from wing to full-back, while Tom Marshall is charged with sparking an uncharacteristically faltering attack from inside centre.

Why are the Chiefs, renowned for lethal attack and the ability to score tries from anywhere, so apparently blunt? Well, one reason is certainly the absence of Aaron Cruden from the number ten jersey. Forget the clamour over Gareth Anscombe's potential switch from the North Island to South Wales – he is a fine replacement for the All Blacks pivot, but Cruden he ain't and it's shown.

But what of the Lions and their defence that ranges from mediocre to more porous than tissue paper?

After an impressive start to the 2014 Super Rugby campaign that saw the boys from Jo'burg turn heads early on, they too have stagnated, falling to a beleaguered Stormers side in the sort of dull Newlands clash that sadly has been a staple of South African derbies this season.

Their bye last week came at the right time – Johan Ackermann's men are set to embark on their tour of Australasia, visiting the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force in the coming weeks.

The history books show they have seldom travelled well, and New Zealand has proved an especially unhappy hunting ground. In fact, it's been a complete boneyard. Under various guises, the Lions have won a grand total of three matches on Kiwi soil, and just once in the last 13 years.

With form stuttering, it's probably with an inward sense of trepidation Ackermann takes his team on the road against four sides who are all heavy favourites to send them packing with little to show for their efforts.

The changes he makes this week are more razor blade-trimming than axe-wielding, with four alterations to the lineup that lost 18-3 in Cape Town.

The booming boot of Marnitz Boshoff, who kicked everything in the opening rounds, is benched in favour of enigmatic fly-half Elton Jantjies.

He'll partner livewire scrum-half Faf de Klerk in the half-backs while Deon van Rensburg regains his spot on the wing. The best news for the Jo'burg franchise is the return of powerful skipper Warren Whiteley from injury – he starts at number eight as part of a barnstorming back-row and as expected takes back the captaincy.

Form: The Chiefs have won just one of their last six fixtures, at home to the Rebels in Round Nine, having salvaged late draws against the Bulls and Cheetahs and lost to the Force, Crusaders and Brumbies. The Lions, meanwhile, have won two of their past six matches against the Reds and Blues, both at Ellis Park, having lost to the Stormers, Sharks (twice) and Crusaders.

Recent Results:
2012: Chiefs won 34-21 in Pukekohe
2011: Chiefs won 34-30 in Jo'burg
Chiefs won 72-65 in Jo'burg
2009: Chiefs won 36-29 in Hamilton
2008: Lions won 33-27 in Jo'burg

Prediction: The hosts will be highly motivated to return to their winning ways and will have too much firepower for the Lions. Chiefs to win by 15 points!

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Michael Fitzgerald, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 Andrew Horrell

Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan , 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 JW Jonker.

Date: Saturday, May 3
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 (local, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)