Super Rugby Match Preview
Friday, 30th March
Chiefs vs Highlanders
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kickoff: 19h35 Local Time, 06h35 GMT, 08h35 SA Time
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
The Must Watch Game Of the Weekend!
Another New Zealand derby looms in Hamilton, and it is likely to be a big one! Both teams need to maintain their momentum if they want to stay in touch with the Hurricanes, and the Highlanders have the added motivation of wanting to get back on winning terms after last week’s loss to the ‘Canes. The Chiefs lost their first game of the season, but have looked to be growing in stature and form as they then beat the Blues, the Bulls, and then the Sunwolves on consecutive weekends.
All of which suggests that we will see some fireworks when these two teams clash in Hamilton on Friday.
The Chiefs have three changes to their starting line-up for this encounter.
Sam Cane runs out in front on his home crowd not just as captain, but for his 100th Super Rugby match.
The tight five is unchanged, with the only change in the pack being the vastly experienced Liam Messam coming in on the blindside flank where he replaces Lachlan Boshier, who drops down to the replacements bench.
In the backline, Brad Weber will start in the number nine jersey, in place of Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Solomon Alaimalo moves to full-back, where he takes over from Marty McKenzie, and Sean Wainui comes in on the wing. On the bench, Charlie Ngatai returns from injury as back-line cover while Pita Gus Sowakula is in line to make his Super Rugby debut.
Meanwhile, Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has made four alterations to his starting line-up after last weekend’s loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington. Ash Dixon will take the place of hooker Liam Coltman who has been unwell this week, while tighthead prop Siate Tokolahi returns to the front-row.
Josh Dickson will make his first appearance for the season in the second-row and Tom Franklin, who has started all four previous matches, moves to the bench. In the backs, Matt Faddes will partner Rob Thompson in the midfield. On the bench Patelesio Tomkinson makes the match-day 23 for the first time and Greg Pleasants-Tate also makes his way into the reserves.
The last time these teams met the Chiefs claimed a 24-15 win in Dunedin. That score-line is representative of almost every game these two play against each other. In 2016 it was 25-15 to the Highlanders, in 2015, 24-14 to the Highlanders.
The Highlanders have been on the winning side in 6 of the previous 8 encounters, dating back to 2014.
This year they might not be the favourites as they head in to Hamilton, but they will be a highly motivated outfit, as they always are.
The Chiefs have been playing some exciting running rugby, triggered by the immense talent and unpredictability of Damian McKenzie as their playmaker, be it in the flyhalf position or from fullback. His influence cannot be underestimated.
Up against McKenzie is the man he is looking to replace as the All Blacks’ second choice flyhalf, Lima Sopoaga. Sopoaga is leaving New Zealand at the end of the season, and will leave a vacancy in the All Black squad. He does not have the slick skills and unpredictability of McKenzie, but he is perhaps the steadiest and calmest flyhalf in the country. He brings a certain thoughtfulness to the game that is not in his young opponent’s make-up.
Key to the Highlander’s successes so far this year has been the form of Aaron Smith. He was impressive, imperious almost, in their games against the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders but seemed a little distracted in last weekend’s loss to the Hurricanes. If he clicks back into gear he will be a handful for Brad Weber to control.
The Highlanders have a competitive pack of forwards, but they are missing the work-rate and presence of Liam Squire. They will have to deal with the massive influence of Sam Cane and Liam Messum in the loose, with Brodie Retallick and Canadian Tyler Ardron policing the lineouts.
Waisake Naholo has been on something of a try-scoring spree this year, and the Chiefs will need to shut him down quickly and effectively when he gets the ball in hand.
It is going to be a goodie!
Home field advantage means an awful lot in New Zealand, none more so than when the Chiefs play in Hamilton. The Highlanders will be highly motivated but the Chiefs will be favourites in Hamilton.
Chiefs to win by eight points!
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Pita Gus Sowakula, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Charlie Ngatai
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (cc), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Paletasio Tomkinson