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Preview: Waratahs v Chiefs

18th April 2013 06:26

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Chiefs back Aaron Cruden kicking

Key to Chiefs: Aaron Cruden

Fresh from a bye, the Waratahs won't be guaranteed another four points when they play host to the Chiefs in Sydney on Friday.

Both outfits are looking to bounce back from defeat, with the defending champions falling to the Reds in Hamilton last Saturday while the Waratahs went down to the Hurricanes in Wellington before their weekend off.

The Chiefs (29 points) remain New Zealand conference leaders but have the Blues (27 points) breathing down their necks and have dropped four points behind competition front-runners the Brumbies.

Their closest rivals in the NZ conference also have a bye this weekend, which means the Blues could leap-frog the Chiefs if Dave Rennie's troops fail to bag a win in their bogey city.

Whilst the Chiefs were comfortable winners against the Waratahs last year at Waikato Stadium, they have not beaten them in Sydney since 2007 - losing 23-16 in 2011 and 11-7 in 2009.

And based on last week's effort against the Reds as well as Australia's dominance over the Kiwis so far this season, six wins, one loss, the pressure is on the visitors to return to winning ways as they look to consolidate their place near the top of the overall table.

Indeed, the Reds' bonus-point victory will only inspire the Waratahs to repeat the same feat. And with the hosts winning three from four at home thus far, they'll be sure to make home ground advantage count once again against their trans-Tasman rivals.

A win for the 'Tahs will also be the perfect send-off before they embark on a two-match tour of South Africa, where they face tricky encounters against the Kings and Bulls. After that it's the Stormers and Brumbies at home before a quick trip to Melbourne and the Crusaders in Christchurch.

So the 10th-placed Waratahs' year certainly doesn't get any easier and with a place in the play-offs highly unlikely, coach Michael Cheika will be more focussed on building the team into a formidable unit during his first season in charge.

"Cheik has committed to the club for the next couple of years and there are guys who are playing who will be around the next couple of years," said Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis.

"We're trying to evolve our game and develop as a team over the next couple of years. I don't think the approach is, 'Play well this year, make the finals and do something different next year.' It's a long-term thing."

Be that as it may, Waratahs fans will be thinking short-term - starting with a win against the Chiefs.

In team news, Rennie has axed the majority of his backs from last weekend's starting XV for Friday's hit-out at Allianz Stadium with Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui and Asaeli Tikoirotuma the only players remaining. A case of pushing the panic button or simply resting his players?

Either way, he still has the likes of Gareth Anscombe and Tim Nanai-Williams to call on if proceedings start going pear-shaped.

As for the Waratahs, they've called in their big guns with Cheika hoping Test forwards Wycliff Palu and Tatafu Polota-Nau can make their mark on the Waratahs' fading season.

Prediction: Both teams have got a lot of motivating factors going into Friday's game, but one feels the Chiefs have more riding on this result which will make them even hungrier for victory. Chiefs by six!

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Peter Betham.

Chiefs: 15 Andrew Horrell, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Michael Kainga, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 August Pulu, 21 Gareth Anscombe, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

Date: Friday, 19 April
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 19:40
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
Television match official: Peter Marshall (Australia)

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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99