Preview: Hurricanes v Chiefs
Friday, May 15, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Played: 24, 1996-2014
Hurricanes wins: 12
Chiefs wins: 11
Hurricanes points: 562
Chiefs points: 547
Last match: Chiefs 24 Hurricanes 16 04.07.14 in Hamilton
Round 14 teams: http://bit.ly/1L4umrt
Form: Rugby fans in Wellington have plenty of reasons to celebrate after a tough season last year in the ITM Cup, for their Investec Super Rugby team has technically qualified for the finals and will be eyeing off crucial home rights.
After all, thirteen Super Rugby champions have been top-of-the-table finishers while only once (The Crusaders in 1999) has an eventual winner finished the regular campaign outside the top two.
With a formidable defensive system and the ability to attack that would do previous vintages of the ‘Canes proud, the next five weeks is their litmus test – five New Zealand teams while they will play their opponents from Hamilton twice.
The Chiefs, if the table was under the guise of the old Super 12/14 format, would be second on the table, ten competition points behind the Hurricanes and perhaps the only side that stands between Chris Boyd’s men and history.
Their offensive systems, similar to the 2015 ‘Canes in the fact that they usually use their defence as the first phase. They aren’t as efficient as their opponents but they have conceded six less tries and the same number of points (197) as their hosts.
Coming off a disappointing one point loss against the Rebels, where the Melbourne based side put in one of the best tackling displays of the season, the Chiefs are on the verge of final’s qualification.
But with two losses in five away games (with Wellington, Dunedin and Brisbane to come), a strong performance in the nation’s capital will high on coach Dave Rennie’s agenda if a third title in four years is to be won.
Key players: While the absence of Beauden Barrett isn’t ideal, the Hurricanes have otherwise rolled out a full strength outfit for the Chiefs, eight of the starting XV have worn the All Blacks jersey.
Ben Franks has been one of the pillars of the pack, while Motu Matu’u gets another start with Test regular Dane Coles on the bench.
James Marshall takes over from Barrett as the backline general, but the return of Julian Savea and the vastly experienced duo of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will be a mighty blockade for the Chiefs attackers to penetrate.
The Chiefs have, as of Friday, lost SBW and strike wing Lowe, hardly ideal considering the team is already missing Aaron Cruden, but Damian McKenzie and Brad Webber form a playing axis that could cause the Hurricanes some damage.
Charlie Ngatai and Bryce Heem will be called upon to stress the home team’s defence – the clash between the two backlines will be a pseudo-All Blacks trial.
Squad update: Smith and Nonu will play their 50th match as a midfield pair, while Jeffery Toomaga-Allen could run out for his 50th 'Canes match.
The big front row forward made his debut for the Hurricanes against the Stormers in Cape Town in 2012, and has played in eight of the team’s matches so far this season after returning from a knee injury suffered in 2014.
Nonu and Smith first combined against the Force in New Plymouth on February 18, 2006. They were the 22nd midfield combination to take the field for the Hurricanes, and there have been a further 21 different combinations since. The next highest pairing for the Hurricanes was Alama Ieremia and Jason O’Halloran, who had 28 starts together.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd is sticking with a similar line-up to face the Chiefs this weekend, however, Julian Savea and TJ Perenara return to the team, with Dane Coles coming back onto the bench.
This weekend's game will be the last regular season appearance at Westpac Stadium for Smith, Nonu, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thursh, Rey Lee-Lo and Chris Smylie.
Changes to the side see lock Michael Allardice get his first start of the season and Damian McKenzie getting the nod in the number 10 jersey, while Hosea Gear takes over the duties on the right wing.
Sonny Bill Williams and James Lowe are late scratchings, replaced by Anton Lienert-Brown and Bryce Heem. Mitchell Graham, Liam Squire and Maama Vaipulu all come onto the reserve bench along with Andrew Horrell, while Marty McKenzie replaces Heem on the pine.
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