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Preview: Blues v Chiefs

09th July 2014 18:17

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Ma a Nonu Blues v Chiefs SR 2014

Big ask: The Blues

The Blues will be hoping for a miracle result and that things fall their way elsewhere when they face the Chiefs at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.

38 points currently separate them from the fifth-place Hurricanes, with one of the Brumbies and Force set to take the other remaining play-off spot.

It is a huge ask of Sir John Kirwan's men but the head coach hasn't given up on the prospect, with home soil having been very kind to them in 2014.

The Chiefs though will be far from a pushover as they themselves chase a spot in the knockouts, looking to defend their crown for a third campaign.

Of course they have the squad to do just that and it is pleasing to see Dave Rennie stick with most of his backline that beat the Hurricanes, with consistency in selection one argument as to why they have won just one more game than they've lost. This though looks to be their best backline.

Bundee Aki alongside Tim Nanai-Williams is the midfield duo, complimenting each other well outside Aaron Cruden, who had his best game of the season against Beauden Barrett last week. The same goes for Brodie Retallick.

Rennie and his charges will know that victory or a defeat with two bonus-points would be enough to see them through and in one-off matches to come, their 25/1 price for outright glory is surely set to tumble. With their know-how and quality, they could go all the way.

We expect them to do enough to make the play-offs over of the Blues, who the jury remains out over. On one hand they are good enough for the knockouts but then there is their away form of one win all year which cannot be overlooked. They've been their own worst enemy.

Their Everest got a little tougher this week when flank Luke Braid had his season curtailed - his shoulder surgery brought forward - and loosehead prop Tony Woodcock was also ruled out with a shoulder problem. That means Brendan O'Connor comes in with Sam Prattley.

Other intriguing match-ups could prove critical in the result too as New Zealand blindsides Steven Luatua and Liam Messam meet while Patrick Tuipolotu hopes to continue his strong second half of the season when he takes on Retallick and then also there is a pair of Blues half-backs desperate to be where their opposite numbers are on the international ladder. On a sidenote it was pleasing to see Ihaia West's good work recognised with a contract.

West is another coming off the conveyor belt in this youthful side so there is promise if they build on these foundations, particularly the ones laid at Eden Park. And while they probably won't make the knockouts, a strong showing and win would be a positive result to finish.

Form: The Blues had a two-game winning run ended at the Crusaders last weekend but were outstanding at the Force in the previous round, with West, Ma'a Nonu and Tuipolotu standing out. Meanwhile the Chiefs ended a three-game drought with a solid win over the 'Canes last week. They have claimed one win on the road in 2014 and that came in the first game of the season, against the Crusaders in February when they won 18 points to 10.

Recent results:

2014: Chiefs won 32-20 in Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 26-16 in Auckland
2013: Chiefs won 23-16 in Mount Maunganui
2012: Chiefs won 41-34 in Auckland
2012: Chiefs won 29-14 in Hamilton

Prediction: A home win here. Blues by about 5!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lolagi Visinia/George Moala, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Jackson Willison, 23 George Moala/Albert Nikoro.

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Dwayne Sweeney.

Date: Friday, July 11
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Brendan Pickerill
TMO: Ben Skeen

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PosTeamPPts
1Crusaders1651
2Chiefs1644
3Highlanders1642
4Hurricanes1641
5Blues1637