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Preview: Chiefs v Bulls

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: Chiefs v Bulls, FMG Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Friday March 16, 7.35pm. TICKETS.

Played: 21
Won: Chiefs 11, Bulls 8, Drawn 2
Last time: Chiefs 28, Bulls 12 (1 April 2017)

FORM
The Chiefs were dealt a tough hand first up with a clash against the defending champions Crusaders in Christchurch to kick off their season. Although the Crusaders won comfortably on the scoreboard, the Chiefs were more competitive than the 45-23 score line suggests. They were in the winners circle in their second match though with a hard-earned 27-21 win over the Blues at Eden Park. The Bulls started their season in impressive fashion with victory over the Hurricanes in Pretoria but have since recorded losses against the Lions at home and the Reds in Brisbane. 



MITCHELL’S RETURN
One of Waikato’s favourite sons will return to Hamilton for this clash – but it won’t be for the Chiefs. Bulls head coach John Mitchell played over 100 games for Waikato in the National Provincial Championship from 1985-1995 and coached the Chiefs in 2000-2001. Since then he has gone onto coach the All Blacks and USA at international level and the Western Force and Lions at Super Rugby level before taking the reins at the Bulls in 2017.

RE-JIGGED CHIEFS
The Chiefs have endured a horror injury count in 2017 and have rejigged their line-up again for this clash. Damian McKenzie was meant to be the Chiefs first-choice first five-eighth this season, but injuries to Charlie Ngatai and Shaun Stevenson mean McKenzie will pull on the number fifteen jersey with youngster Tiaan Falcon assuming the pivots role. A thigh injury to No.8 Taleni Seu has forced an adjustment in the loose forward trio with Liam Messam switching from blindside flanker to No.8 and Lachlan Boshier coming in at number six. The Chiefs did receive some good news this week with world class lock Brodie Retallick returning from an eye injury.

KEY AREA
A massive showdown is looming at the breakdown with the Chiefs fielding two high-quality pilferers in Sam Cane and Lachlan Boshier. Despite the changes in breakdown laws, Sam Cane has retained all of his effectiveness in that area and will be looking to disrupt the Bulls anytime the ball goes to ground. The Bulls come with a high-quality turnover exponent of their own in loose forward Roelof Smit. Smit has won eight turnovers so far this campaign – more than any other player.
FAST FACT
The Bulls have won only one of their last 12 games in New Zealand, with their last victory coming against the Blues in 2013. (Opta)

THE SCOOP

History is against the Bulls with the Chiefs undefeated in their last four matches against the Pretoria-based side. But the Bulls need only look back to their season-opening victory over the Hurricanes for inspiration. Given the Chiefs injury woes, John Mitchell will sense an opportunity to grab a second-victory over a New Zealand side and will be looking at his big name stars Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard and Lood de Jager to stand up.

TEAMS
Chiefs:
Damian McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, Johnny Fa'auli, Solomon Alaimalo, Tiaan Falcon, Brad Weber, Liam Messam, Sam Cane (c), Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Brodie Retallick, Angus Ta'avao, Nathan Harris, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Liam Polwart, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Jeff Thwaites, Michael Allardice, Luke Jacobson, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Marty McKenzie, Declan O'Donnell.

Bulls: Warrick Galant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Divan Rossouw, Handre Pollard, Andre Riaan Warner, Handro Libenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Roelof Smit, Lodwyk De Jager, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Conrad Van Vuuren, Jason Jenkins, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Manie Libbok, John-Ben Kotze.