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Preview: Chiefs v Highlanders

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Thursday, February 27, 2014    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 21, Chiefs 14, Highlanders 7

LAST TIME: Chiefs 19 Highlanders 7, March 22, 2013, Waikato Stadium

WALKING WOUNDED: Mahonri Schwalger returns at hooker in his first match since the start of last year's ITM Cup while halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is back from a rolled ankle. Mils Muliaina's elbow injury has recovered sufficiently for him to retain his place in the side. Pauliasi Manu comes into the side for Jamie Mackintosh who is on the bench alongside hooker Rhys Marshall.
The Highlanders are without Brad Thorn due to a rib injury with Joe Wheeler returning from a compound fracture in his finger to replace him. John Hardie rejoins the side while injured wing Patrick Osborne is replaced by Malakai Fekitoa who moves from centre to wing, allowing formed Force player Winston Stanley to play at centre.

FORM: Both sides produced strong defensive efforts in the opening games with the Highlanders hitting the Blues hard from the outset to lead 24-0 at one stage. The Chiefs faced a searching test by the Crusaders but their line held firm and they were able to turn that into points in the last minute to deny the home team any points at all from the game.

WE THINK: The Highlanders have let their cat out of the bag so the surprise factor is gone from their campaign. Now it is about producing the points away from home and it could not be more daunting than against the defending champions. However, injuries have rattled the Chiefs and while they have shown outstanding depth the situation has the potential to be an Achilles heel for the side. The home team should still be favoured but the visitors will recall the prize the last team from Dunedin won when they upset the home team to claim the Ranfurly Shield last year so there should be a fascinating game in prospect.

TEAMS:


Chiefs: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Mahonri Schwalger, 3.Ben Tameifuna, 4.Michael Fitzgerald, 5.Matt Symons, 6.Nick Crosswell, 7.Tanerau Latimer, 8.Liam Messam, 9.Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10.Aaron Cruden (captain), 11.Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12.Charlie Ngatai, 13.Robbie Fruean, 14.Tim Nanai-Williams, 15.Mils Muliaina.
Reserves: 16.Rhys Marshall, 17.Jamie Mackintosh, 18.Ben Afeaki, 19. Tevita Koloamatangi, 20. Liam Squire, 21.Brad Webber, 22.Andrew Horrell, 23.James Lowe.

Highlanders:
1.Kane Hames, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Chris King, 4.Jarrad Hoeata, 5.Joe Wheeler, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.John Hardie, 8.Nasi Manu (co-captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Malakai Fekitoa, 12.Shaun Treeby, 13.Winston Stanley, 14.Richard Buckman, 15.Ben Smith (co-captain).

Reserves: 16.Brayden Mitchell, 17.Matias Diaz, 18.Craig Millar, 19.Josh Bekhuis, 20.Shane Christie, 21.Fumiaki Tanaka, 22.Trent Renata, 23.Phil Burleigh.

REFEREE: Rohan Hoffman