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PREVIEW: Chiefs v Highlanders

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Played: 29
Won: Chiefs 16, Highlanders 13
Last time: Chiefs 24, Highlanders 15 (24 February 2017)

Match details: Chiefs v Highlanders, 7.35pm Friday 30 March, FMG Stadium Waikato. TICKETS.

FORM
This is shaping as a closely fought tussle with both teams picking up three wins and a loss so far this season. The Chiefs lost their opening game to the Crusaders but have bounced back with impressive wins over the Blues, Bulls and Sunwolves. The Highlanders won their first three matches over the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders before succumbing 29-12 to the Hurricanes last weekend. This match will have big implications on the ladder with the winner moving to the top of the NZ Conference (even if just temporarily) and the loser slumping to fourth.

QUICK TAP: HIGHLANDERS LOOK FOR LIFT UP FRONT AGAINST CHIEFS

CLASH OF THE TENS
While Beauden Barrett is the undisputed king of the pivots in New Zealand, Damian McKenzie and Lima Sopoaga are not far behind. In his final season for the side before heading to play in the UK, Sopoaga has led the Highlanders backline superbly in 2018 and has grown as a leader in the squad. Former fullback McKenzie has slotted seamlessly into the number 10 jersey for the Chiefs and put on a virtuoso performance against the Sunwolves last week with 26 points. With Richie Mo’unga currently side-lined through injury, the player who gets the better in this clash could find themselves squarely in the frame for the All Blacks squad to take on France in June.
INJURY WARD
The Chiefs have had a wretched run on the injury front but were relieved to come through their clash with the Sunwolves unscathed. They have made only three changes from the side that thumped the Sunwolves in Tokyo with Liam Messam coming into the number six jersey, Brad Weber back at halfback and the impressive Sean Wainui back in the 11 jersey. They are also boosted by the return of Charlie Ngatai on the bench. Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has made four changes to his side. There are three changes in the engine room with Ash Dixon replacing the unwell Liam Coltman at hooker, prop Siate Tokolahi reclaiming the tighthead position and lock Josh Dickson getting his first start of the season. In the backs, Matt Faddes partners Rob Thompson in a new-look midfield combination.

FAST FACT

The Chiefs have scored 102 points in their last two fixtures. (Opta)

THE SCOOP

Many pundits are calling this the game of the round and one of the reasons is because the result is so hard to pick. These are two evenly-matched teams desperate to win. The Chiefs have winning Momentum while the Highlanders are coming off a loss. Coupled with the inspirational effect of Sam Cane’s 100th match and playing in front of their home fans, the Chiefs may have the edge, but only just.
TEAMS
Highlanders:
Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ash Dixon, Siate Tokolahi, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Dickson, Elliot Dixon, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Tevita Li, Rob Thompson, Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
Reserves: Greg Pleasents-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Tyrell Lomax, Tom Franklin, Shannon Frizzell, Josh Renton, Fletcher Smith, Patelesio Tomkinson

Chiefs:
Aidan Ross, Nathan Harris, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Tyler Ardon, Liam Messam, Sam Cane (C), Taleni Seu, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Johnny Fa’auli, Anton Lienert-Brown, Toni Pulu, Solomon Alaimalo
Reserves: Liam Polwart, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Jeff Thwaites, Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahurirorangi, Marty McKenzie, Charlie Ngatai