The Chiefs will be looking to make it 12 successive Super Rugby wins over the Blues when the two teams meet at Eden Park on Friday.
Super Rugby makes such little sense that fifth spot is where three Kiwi teams hope they will end up, knowing it is the softest route to advancing through the playoffs.
Finish fifth, and there is a reasonable chance that a trip to South Africa can be avoided.
Fifth place comes with the near-guarantee of a quarter-final clash in Australia and the prospect of a semifinal in New Zealand.
The teams that finish sixth and seventh are certain that they will be playing at least a quarter-final in South Africa and possibly a semifinal as well.
That’s why the Chiefs are coming to Eden Park with a firm sense that their clash against the Blues is critical. If they lose, they will be scrambling to keep pace with the Hurricanes, who they play on June 9.
The two are on the same number of points, having played the same number of games.
These two have the inside lane in the race to finish fifth, which is the best they can hope for now, as they both trail the Crusaders by 11 points.
The Crusaders play the Rebels tomorrow night and a victory in Melbourne would virtually ensure they finish top of the New Zealand conference.
With top spot unobtainable, the Chiefs and Hurricanes both know their chances of being crowned champions will be considerably higher if they can play a quarter-final in Australia, most likely Canberra, instead of South Africa.
What last year showed is any New Zealand team forced to travel to South Africa at any stage of the playoffs is going to pay for it physically and mentally.
The Chiefs won their quarter-final in Cape Town with a thumping win against the Stormers but were lacking energy and drive a week later in Wellington. The Highlanders also struggled to deliver in Johannesburg, having been forced to play their semifinal at Ellis Park after winning their quarter-final in Canberra.
The Chiefs will expect the Hurricanes to beat the Bulls and Force in the next two weeks, which means they have to do the same against the Blues and Waratahs and reach June 9 level or as close as they can.
The Chiefs will be wary of the Blues’ capacity to play party pooper. Now that the Blues have seen their playoff hopes all but extinguished, they may, as happened last year, play an uninhibited brand of rugby that is hard to contain.
There’s also a need to be aware that with a game in Samoa next week and then a historic clash against the British and Irish Lions, the Blues still have ample but perhaps different motivations to keep playing well.
Winning in Auckland is imperative for the Chiefs because what they want is for their clash against the Hurricanes to be definitive – to be able to get ahead of them on the table if they win.
If they do that, then they can come into their last game of the regular season against the Brumbies in Hamilton knowing they control their own destiny. Beat the Brumbies, and they will finish fifth.
The Chiefs, while they don’t want to rely on it, do at least have the secondary hope of knowing that the Hurricanes’ last match is against the Crusaders.
- The run home
1) Crusaders: Rebels (a), Highlanders (h), Hurricanes (a).
2) Lions: Kings (h), Sunwolves (h), Sharks (a).
3) Stormers: Sharks (a), Cheetahs (a), Sunwolves (h), Bulls (h).
4) Brumbies: Jaguares (a), Rebels (h), Reds (a), Chiefs (a).
5) Hurricanes: Bulls (a), Force (a), Chiefs (h), Crusaders (h).
6) Chiefs: Blues (a), Waratahs (h), Hurricanes (a), Brumbies (h).
7) Highlanders: Waratahs (h), Crusaders (a), Reds (h).
8) Sharks: Stormers (h), Bulls (h), Lions (h).
2017: Chiefs won 41-26 in Hamilton
2016: Chiefs won 29-23 in Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-16 in Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-18 in Albany
2014: Chiefs won 11-8 in Auckland
2014: Chiefs won 32-20 in New Plymouth
2013: Chiefs won 26-16 in Auckland
2013: Chiefs won 23-16 in Mount Maunganui
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 TJ Faiane
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Solomon Alaimalo, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Date: Friday, May 26
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant, Angus Mabey
TMO: Glenn Newman