Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes

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Friday, July 4, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Both sides have everything to play for, and when it comes to Investec Super Rugby Finals Series rights, everything to lose.

Friday, July 2, 2014, 19:35pm (NZT)

H2H: Played 23, Chiefs 10, Hurricanes 12, Drawn 1

Last time: Hurricanes 45-8 Chiefs (May 24, 2014)

Squad update: The Chiefs have made a host of changes to their back division, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Charlie Ngatai, Tim Nanai-Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, James Lowe and Tom Marshall constituting an overhauled line with only Aaron Cruden remaining from the week before.

It will be an emotional affair in Hamilton for the likes of Tanerau Latimer, Bundee Aki and Mils Muliaina are leaving at season’s end, while there will be a bittersweet feeling considering the side will not be used to signing off their home campaign quite this early.

This is in contrast to a Hurricanes team that has relied again on continuity, with Dane Coles coming through training earlier in the week to confirm his position. With a bye in the final round of the season, this potentially could be the side’s last game of the year if they do not record a win and have other results go their way.

Form: The Chiefs campaign lies in the balance, a loss will, maths or no maths, end their season while even victory could not be enough with the champions winning just six of their 14 matches so far this year. Well beaten by the Hurricanes in the corresponding fixture earlier this year, there is risk that the Waikato based outfit might slump to their fourth straight defeat.

The Hurricanes are in solid touch, strong with a win over the Crusaders last week, even if the team hasn’t put together back-to-back wins since Round 11 earlier this year. The visitors will be looking for their second calendar sweep of a local rival, hoping to defeat the Chiefs twice in season – a feat the champions achieved against the team from Wellington in 2009 and 2013.

Key players: Cruden’s presence will be doubly important, not only for the fact that his team struggles when he is out of touch, but the fact that there is a brand new back line for the two-time title winner to guide against a star studded Hurricanes backline.

The Chiefs forwards, hardly embarrassed this year but far from indomitable, will want a big performance against a vibrant Hurricanes pack that will be weaker without Victor Vito. The champion’s men up front have had to survive torrid examinations in recent months.

For the touring team, the form of Julian Savea and the direction of Beauden Barrett will decide this one, with the big ‘Bus’ outwide one of the premier attacking players in the game, while the Hurricanes first five would like to make a point against Cruden.

Key matchup: Liam Messam will want a big performance, this has not been his year so far, despite some solid showings in 2014, he may have been usurped by Jerome Kaino in the national pecking order, and his Chiefs pack has been under pressure most of the year.

Meanwhile Jack Lam, once again impressive with Samoa over June, has been one of the most industrious players in the Hurricanes pack, with a mongrel on defence and work-rate off the ball that has kept Ardie Savea on the bench for most of the season.

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 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 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Agustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Bundee Aki.

Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.

Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Cardiff Vaega, 23 James Marshall.