The Chiefs will be looking to get back to winning ways as they take on an ailing Rebels side in their Super Rugby clash in Hamilton.
With five games left in the conference section of the competition, the Chiefs are tied at the top of the New Zealand conference with the Crusaders and the Highlanders. The two aforementioned teams have a game in hand.
The Rebels, who recently held top spot in the Australian conference, have now fallen seven points behind the current leaders, the Waratahs.
The Melbourne team are clear that their priorities are in order according to Rebels head coach Tony McGahan.
“We know exactly where we stand and what we’ve got to do and that’s where we’ll go forward this week. If you get too caught up on the opposition and what they’ve got to do, who they’ve got to play, the byes they’ve got, and who’s in and who’s out, it becomes messy,” he said.
“We’ve got a tough assignment with the Chiefs away in Hamilton on Saturday evening.”
The Rebels have never beaten the Chiefs in Hamilton but could be quietly confident considering they did win the fixture in Melbourne last year, 16-15. The Chiefs will be keen to regain some form after a shock loss against the Highlanders two weeks ago, which could prove to be a saving grace, as over-confidence could have become an issue after seven games unbeaten, especially at this stage of the competition.
The Chiefs midfield will miss the electric presence of centre, Charlie Ngatai, who has beaten the second most amount of defenders statistically this season, and is ranked third in the amount of line-breaks, proving to be a anomaly for defending teams.
The last time these teams met: The Rebels stunned the Chiefs 16-15 in Melbourne. The Rebels scored two tries in the first-half through scrum-half Nic Stirzaker and number eight Scott Higginbotham. The Rebels were able to weather a second-half resurgence from the Chiefs, as they replied with tries from number eight Michael Leitch and centre Charlie Ngatai.
Players to watch: Damian McKenzie has been lethal for the Hamilton side this season. Opposition kicking behind the Chiefs defensive line do so at their peril as the diminutive full-back ranks number one in kicks caught, metres run and defenders beaten in the competition. Nathan Harris is back from a long-term injury and the hooker has been touted as a rising star ever since he played for the New Zealand U20 side in the Junior World Championship in South Africa. The front-rower should be out to prove himself this weekend.
For the Rebels keep an eye on powerful back-row Sean McMahon, who needs to impose himself on the Chiefs throughout. His combination with Colby Fainga’a and Adam Thomson could well have a say in how this game plays out.
Team news: Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made two changes to his side for this weekend’s clash. Hika Elliot has been relegated to the bench as Nathan Harris starts in the number two jersey. Anton Lienert-Brown replaces Charlie Ngatai in the midfield after the inside centre was not cleared to play after suffering a concussion against the Highlanders two weeks ago.
Tom English comes in at wing for the Rebels while Mitch Inman replaces Tamati Ellison at outside centre. Sam Jeffries will don the number four jersey and is the only change to the forward pack. Culum Retallick, Jonah Placid and Siliva Siliva have been named on the bench.
Form: The Chiefs had a shock loss against the Highlanders at home last week. Before their bye, they had seven games undefeated and built large tallies over their opponents. The Rebels’ record is not as attractive. The men from Melbourne have won one in four and conceded a try bonus point in their last two games.
Prediction: The Chiefs are coming off a loss and subsequent bye, which should mean an aggressive backlash is imminent. The Chiefs should do away with an unstable Rebels side, especially at home. Chiefs to win by 21.
2015: Rebels won 16-15 in Melbourne
2014: Chiefs won 22-16 in Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 39-33 in Melbourne
2011: Chiefs won 38-10 in Hamilton
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Bred Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Sam Vaka
Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Jonah Placid, 23 Kotaro Matsushima
Date: Saturday, May 21
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardiner
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey
TMO: Ben Skeen