The Chiefs will be looking to record a ninth victory of the season on Saturday when they host the Reds at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.
Despite last week’s out of sorts effort against the Sunwolves, which they won 27-20, the Chiefs should have enough class to beat the Reds.
No doubt their visitors will be hurting after a narrow defeat to rivals the Waratahs and what made that defeat doubly worse was that they missed the chance to close in on Australia’s pace-setting Brumbies, who have opened the door to their rivals following a poor run of form.
Currently the Brumbies are six points clear of the Reds but after this weekend the Canberra side will have two games in hand on their main rivals, the Reds and ‘Tahs, so defeat for both this week would leave them with a mountain to climb if the Brumbies return to winning ways.
The Chiefs meanwhile are in a much stronger position on 37 points, but if the Crusaders continue to win the best they can finish is fifth, such is the format of the competition. They have a bye next weekend before hosting the Christchurch outfit in what will be a massive clash.
Back to this week’s game in New Plymouth though and each of the last three matches between these teams has been won by the away side on the day, with the Chiefs taking the spoils in the last two, conceding just eight points in the process. That will give the Reds hope.
They may also be buoyed by the fact they have won each of their last three away trips to the Chiefs. If they are to make it four they have to capitalise on the Chiefs’ sluggish starts to games in recent outings – they have led at half-time in only one of their last five fixtures.
Maintaining a lead until full-time against this dangerous Chiefs outfit will surely be too great a task for the Reds though, as the hosts should have enough quality to make it nine wins from 10 in 2017, thus putting pressure on the Crusaders ahead of their game at the Bulls.
The last time the teams met: It was a procession in Brisbane last year as the Chiefs ran out 50-5 winners in a one-sided game. Points came via Seta Tamanivalu (2), Atunaisa Moli, a penalty try, Sam Cane, Damian McKenzie (2) and Nathan Harris with McKenzie kicking 10 points off the tee. In reply only a first-half try from Chris Kuridrani troubled the scoreboard for the Reds, who received two yellow cards in the loss.
Team news: All Black Charlie Ngatai makes his return to Super Rugby this weekend, starting at inside centre, with fellow All Black, hooker Nathan Harris, also returning after being named in the reserves. There are eight changes to the starting side that defeated the Sunwolves 27-20 to record their eighth win of the season last Saturday. In the forwards, Brodie Retallick returns to the side as the sole change to the tight five. There’s a reshuffle in the loose forwards with co-captain Sam Cane moving from number eight to openside flanker. Mitchell Brown is promoted from the bench to start at blindside flank, and Michael Leitch returns to the 23 to start at number eight. Tawera Kerr-Barlow returns to re-establish his partnership with co-captain Aaron Cruden in shirts nine and 10 respectively. Ngatai links up with Anton Lienert-Brown to form a formidable centre combination, with James Lowe, Toni Pulu and Damian McKenzie completing the home side’s backline.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles has named a largely unchanged side for the clash with the Chiefs in New Plymouth. Stiles has gone for the same forward pack and has made minor changes to the backs from the 29-26 defeat to the Waratahs last weekend. A knee injury to Karmichael Hunt has forced a shuffle, with captain Samu Kerevi shifting to 12, Campbell Magnay brought in at 13 and Duncan Paia’aua shifted to full-back.
Form: Just the one defeat in nine games this season for the Chiefs as they currently enjoy a three-match winning run. They’ve scored twice as many tries as they have conceded and have a knack of winning tight contests this year, with their average victory being by nine points.
In contrast the Reds have won just two of their nine games with those coming against South African teams, the Sharks and Kings. Last week saw them narrowly lose at home to the Waratahs, with an average of 31 points leaked per game not pretty reading for the men from Brisbane.
The Chiefs have suffered a blow ahead of taking on the Reds in New Plymouth after co-captain Aaron Cruden was ruled out due to illness.
First-Five Cruden didn’t travel with the team to New Plymouth after he fell ill after training on Thursday, with the fixture scheduled for Saturday.
According to Stuff it is believed that Stephen Donald is likely to wear 10 in his place with Damian McKenzie staying in the full-back shirt.
2016: Chiefs won 50-5 in Brisbane
2015: Chiefs won 24-3 in Brisbane
2013: Reds won 31-23 in Hamilton
2012: Reds won 42-27 in Brisbane
2011: Reds won 19-11 in Hamilton
2010: Reds won 23-18 in Hamilton
2009: Chiefs won 50-26 in Brisbane
2008: Chiefs 32-20 in Hamilton
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Reds: 15 Duncan Paia’aua, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Chris Kuridrani
Date: Saturday, May 6
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)