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Preview: Chiefs v Highlanders

21st March 2013 08:58

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Jarrad Hoeata highlanders v chiefs

Blindside: Jarrad Hoeata

Friday's only game of Super Rugby sees the Chiefs return to Hamilton after their tour of South Africa, hosting the Highlanders.

Many predicted the Chiefs would simple cruise to a heavy win over the Kings on their last hit out, but the South African newcomers proved a trickier task to take down than expected, making the champions work for their try bonus-point victory which included a hat-trick for Lelia Masaga - cue some trademark dancing.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders continued their poor start to the campaign by ending up on the wrong side of a see-saw battle against the Hurricanes in Wellington, Beauden Barrett's boot eventually sinking the visitors who had kept in touch thanks to Hosea Gear's try and the boot of Colin Slade.

It leaves the Highlanders rooted to the bottom of the Super Rugby table with the uneasiest of challenges ahead of them this weekend given the Chiefs confident start to the campaign.

Even the Chiefs loss against the Stormers in Cape Town yielded two crucial bonus point to leave them in second place, making the champions hot favourites to come out on top this weekend.

The hosts were boosted this week by the news that Ross Filipo will not be ruled out for the rest of the season after picking a serious knock to his knee against the Kings, with number eight Nick Crosswell starting in his place at the back of the pack.

Craig Clarke misses out after picking up a knock to the head last weekend, meaning Michael Fitzgerald takes his spot at lock. Pauliasi Manu is the other remaining change to the starting XV, coming in for Ben Afeaki.

The Highlanders meanwhile welcome back Ma'a Nonu in the centres, with Liam Coltman, Josh Bekhuis and Jarrad Hoeata starting in the pack. Veteran prop Chris King will win his 100th Super Rugby cap packing down at tighthead.

Prediction: The Highlanders may only have two bonus points to show from their opening matches, but can cause enough trouble to pressure the Chiefs, who will miss the influence of Clarke and Filipo at front.

Despite that loss however, the champions have too much speed in the backs and Gareth Anscombe is in good form off the tee and the leading points scorer in Super Rugby this season.

Chiefs by 8.

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Nick Crosswell, 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 Ben Afeaki, 18 Romana Graham/Fritz Lee, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 August Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Richard Kahui/Patrick Osborne.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.

Date: Friday, 22 March
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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