Preview: Hurricanes v Chiefs

Date published: May 15 2015

It's a game worthy of being this year's Super Rugby Final and is without doubt the highlight of Round 14. The Hurricanes host the Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday.

Make no mistake, these are the two best sides in the tournament this year and only the conference-based ranking system is preventing them from being the top two in the standings.

This weekend's clash will go a long way towards determining who wins the New Zealand conference which will almost certainly bring with it an automatic semi-final berth.

The Hurricanes have set the pace from day one and Chiefs join them in being amongst the top sides in almost every attacking stat category. The Hurricanes have averaged the most defenders beaten (23.2) this year but the Chiefs have forced the lowest tackling success rate from their opponents (83%).

Both teams have been struck by the misfortune of losing their All Black fly-halves to knee injuries while in full flight but the Hurricanes rest much easier in the knowledge that Beauden Barrett will be back soon, in stark contrast to Aaron Cruden, whose season is over.

The battle between their replacements is one of a handful of interesting subplots as James Marshall – who has been struggling with a knee injury of his own this week – takes on 20-year-old Damian McKenzie, who is the third option used in the pivot berth by Chiefs coach Dave Rennie since the loss of Cruden with Andrew Horrell and McKenzie's older brother Marty having already been given a go.

The Chiefs 10 this week is the least experienced but arguably the most exciting of the lot though and his fancy footwork could prove vital as the Chiefs look to cut the 10-point deficit on the 'Canes in the standings.

The match is also the Hurricanes' last of the regular season at Westpac Stadium and coach Chris Boyd has used that to try turn the attention away from some of the much-hyped head-to-head battles.

"I think they're all big games but this has assumed some significance for both sides," he said on Wednesday.

"We are concentrating on the fact it's the last round robin game for us at home for a while and for a number of guys it will be the last round robin game they play for the Hurricanes and that's been our focus really."

The Hurricanes have won just two of their last seven against the Chiefs (D1 L4). However, the 'Canes have won eight of their last nine at home against the men from Waikato and the last time they clashed at the Cake Tin, the home side run away with a 45-8 victory.

The last time these team met: The Chiefs won 24-16 at Waikato Stadium in Round 18 last year as Jamie Mackintosh and Brodie Retallick touched down on either side of half time to claim a deserved victory. exacting revenge for a thrashing in Wellington a few weeks earlier.

Players to watch: Our attention is draw to the battle between two young opensides, as Ardie Savea looks to have another big outing going up against Richie McCaw's apprentice, Sam Cane. We've really started to see Savea's potential in the last few rounds while Cane has a had a strong season so far.

Less impressive is the fact that only Liam Messam (18) has conceded more penalties than Ben Franks (17) this season. This is not the type of game for giving away cheap three pointers.

Team news: All Blacks TJ Perenara and Julian Savea return to the Hurricanes backline – after being rested against the Sharks last week – as two of four changes to the starting XV. Chris Smylie who drops to the bench, while Matt Proctor drops out of the matchday squad as a result. Reggie Goodes returns at loosehead in place of Chris Eves. Brad Shields starts on the side of the scrum ahead of Blade Thomson. All Black hooker Dane Coles has recovered from a calf injury, but will have to settle for a spot on the bench,

There are five changes to the Chiefs XV, with two coming late on thanks to injuries for Sonny Bill Williams and James Lowe. Anton Leinart-Brown and Bryce Heem are their respective replacements, while lock Michael Allardice gets his first start of the season and replaces Matt Symons. Damian McKenzie takes over from Andrew Horrell in the number 10 jersey, while Hosea Gear comes in for Tim Nanai-Williams on the right wing.

Form: The Hurricanes have lost just once in 11 games this year (in Round 10 to the Waratahs). They beat the Sharks 32-24 last week. Six of the Hurricanes' 10 wins this season have been by eight points or under. The Chiefs are coming off a bye having lost on the road to the Rebels a week earlier. The Chiefs' three defeats this year have come from a combined margin of just five points (3, 1, 1).

Predictions: Who is brave enough to bet against the 'Canes this year? The Chiefs could well have the firepower to get the job done but the holes created by absence of Retallick and Cruden are significant so we'll back the hosts. Hurricanes by six points.

Previous results:
2014: Chiefs won 24-16 in Hamilton
2014: Hurricanes won 45-8 in Wellington
2013: Chiefs won 34-22 in Hamilton
2013: Chiefs 17-12 in Wellington

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott/Callum Gibbins, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Otere Black, 23 Rey Lee-Lo.

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Bryce Heem.

Date: Saturday, May 16
Venue:  Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Aki Aso
TMO: Vinny Munro