Two of the favourites for the title clash in New Plymouth on Saturday as the Chiefs face the Waratahs in a key game for the hosts.
Two of the favourites for the Super Rugby title clash in New Plymouth on Saturday as the Chiefs face the Waratahs in a key game for the home outfit.
Suddenly the picture isn't quite as rosy for the Chiefs as they dropped from first to fourth in New Zealand after losing to the Hurricanes last week.
That 45-8 defeat saw them go down heavily despite leading 8-7 with 20 minutes played in Wellington.
From then on the wheels came off, which will be worrying for Dave Rennie and his coaching team as the 'Canes put on an attacking display that had them chasing shadows for the best part of an hour.
As we know they have been troubled by injuries this season but this – as mentioned in pre-season – is the strongest squad in the competition so the fact they're still very much in the mix for their domestic conference shows the depth they have. Ultimately though, it has just caught up with them.
Now the question is of course whether they can recover from that hiding at Westpac Stadium against a strong Waratahs side as three derbies follow – against the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Blues – so a loss here would be a significant blow to their hopes, with the play-offs then their best hope.
Aaron Cruden's return as a skipper and fly-half should help their cause in one of eight changes made by Rennie as the All Black lines up alongside Andrew Horrell and Tim Nanai-Williams in the back-line. On paper they look solid but one wonders if the regular changes are having a negative effect.
The Waratahs are anything but inconsistent as we know what to expect from them, with a bustling forward pack led by the power of Jacques Potgieter, Wycliff Palu and Tatafu Polota-Nau complimented nicely by Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and that Wallaby at full-back, Israel Folau.
One player who is performing exceptionally well under the radar though is converted winger Rob Horne who has shifted from centre with ease. The man who played in a Super Rugby final at the age of 18 was billed as one of the next big things in Australia and six years on we're seeing him flourish.
The Waratahs aren't assured of the Australian conference just yet though as the Force and Brumbies nip at their heels. But a win at the Chiefs would put them in a strong position ahead of the run-in. The question now is whether it is a good or the worst time to tackle this wounded Hamilton outfit.
Form: The Chiefs had recovered from two losses in late April and were on a two-game winning run before going down to the Hurricanes last week. Meanwhile, the Waratahs have lost their past eight games in New Zealand and haven't won across the Tasman in four years. They are though on a three-game winning run in the competition after beating the Hurricanes, Lions and Melbourne Rebels so they enter the game at Yarrow Stadium very confident.
2013: Waratahs won 25-20 in Sydney
2012: Chiefs won 30-13 in Hamilton
2011: Waratahs won 23-16 in Sydney
Prediction: The 'Tahs will come close but let's go with the Chiefs by five!
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Tanerau Latimer, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Bundee Aki.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro.
Date: Saturday, May 31
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Kick-off: 16:35 local (05:35 BST, 04:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Richard Kelly (New Zealand), Grant Stuart (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)