Preview: Chiefs v Blues

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Thursday, April 2, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 4 April at 7.35pm
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Played: 24, 1996-2015
Chiefs wins: 14
Blues wins: 10

Chiefs points: 608
Blues points 534

Last match: Chiefs 23 Blues 18, 14.02.15 in Albany

All teams for round 8:

Squad update: The Chiefs have changed their entire front row, with Pauliasi Manu returning from injury, while Quentin MacDonald and Ben Tameifuna come into the side.

The backline welcomes back Sonny Bill Williams, while Tom Marshall will start on the left wing.

SBW’s centre partner is still to be confirmed, while Charlie Ngatai has been bracketed with Seta Tamanivalu at centre.

Former All Black Sevens player Pita Ahki will make his season debut for the Blues starting at centre outside George Moala who moves in one slot, with Francis Saili moving to the bench.

Other changes in the backs will see with Jamison Gibson-Park given his first start at halfback while Tevita Li returns to the wing.

All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu returns for his second start of the season, Ofa Tu’ungafasi comes into the pack with Tony Woodcock out with injury while fellow All Black Charlie Faumuina is bracketed at prop with Angus Ta’avao.

Form: The Chiefs are sitting secure as the top ranked wildcard team, fourth overall on the regular season table, winning five matches from their opening seven fixtures.

It hasn’t been an indomitable run, losing two of their last four, but those losses against the Highlanders and Sharks were fixtures where the two-time champions had their chances.

However the local rivalry is firmly in favour of the Chiefs, unbeaten against the Blues since March 26, 2011, the Waikato based team has won eight straight fixtures against the Auckland side.

The Blues have lost all six of their games so far in 2015, but have collected losing bonus points on four occasions, while their margins of defeat are 5, 11, 1, 3, 7 and 12 points.

The three-time winners have beaten more defenders (21) than any other side, boast the third best goal kicking rate (79%), have run the third most metres (477), thrown more passes than 12 other teams (140.8) and hold the ball for 16:02 minutes per match – the third highest total of any franchise.

Key players: The Chiefs will look to a fresh front row and the return of World Player of the Year Retallick to quell what will be a physical challenge from the Blues.

Aaron Cruden has become heavily scrutinised this season, showing touches of his class yet the Chiefs will want their general to govern matches with more authority, while Augustine Pulu has been a key figure so far in 2015 at halfback.

Sonny Bill’s return cannot be underestimated, his presence draws numerous defenders while his stats have him placed by aggregate as one of the top three players by attack in Super Rugby.

Josh Bekhuis and Hayden Triggs will want stellar games if they are to match the Chiefs locking combination – but the likes of Brendon O’Connor, Steven Luatua and recently re-signed Jerome Kaino will back themselves to combat the ‘Canes back row.

The backline, despite some gems, doesn’t look quite the equal of their counterparts, but the new midfield of George Moala and Pita Ahki could cause the veteran centres of the Hurricanes some concerns.