Expect fireworks when the Chiefs and Highlanders get Round Seven’s action underway in their New Zealand derby in Hamilton on Friday.
The Chiefs will be brimming with confidence as they head into this match on the back of an impressive 61-10 triumph over the Sunwolves in Tokyo last weekend.
The home side also claimed a 24-15 win when they faced the Highlanders last year, snapping a six-game losing streak against the men from Dunedin in which they had scored more than 20 points in a game only once.
After losing to the Hurricanes last weekend, the Highlanders will be determined to return to the victory trail as they secured fine wins in their three matches prior to that – against the Blues, Stormers and Crusaders.
The Highlanders have won their last two away games against the Chiefs and will be searching for a third-straight win in such fixtures for the first time.
The Chiefs have won six of their last seven regular-season games, and have scored 102 points across their last two fixtures. Their opponents have lost their last three away games, the last time they lost more in a row was a four-game drought to round out their 2014 campaign.
Waisake Naholo has crossed for six tries in his last five games against the Chiefs, making at least three clean breaks in each of his last four games against them.
Despite being at home for this fixture, Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper is not underestimating their opponents.
“The Highlanders are a dangerous team,” he said.
“We have to certainly be defensively ready for them because they can attack from their own goal line. They put a lot of variety into their game, so we will really get tested by them.”
Highlanders boss Aaron Mauger expects another tough assignment for his charges.
“As a group we are under no illusions as to the challenge this week, the Chiefs are an in-form side playing in front of their home crowd, so it ought to be another great tussle,” he said.
Team news: Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has made three changes to his starting line-up for this encounter. After starting every game so far this season, 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, co-captain Charlie Ngatai returns from injury as back-line cover while Pita Gus Sowakula is in line to make his Super Rugby debut as the replacement lock.
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. Co-captain 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, young Otago midfielder, Patelesio Tomkinson makes the matchday 23 for the first time and Greg Pleasants-Tate also makes his way into the reserves.
2017: Chiefs won 24-15 in Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 25-15 in Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 26-13 in Hamilton
2015: Highlanders won 24-14 in Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 36-09 in Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 20-17 in Hamilton
2014: Highlanders won 29-24 in Dunedin
2014: Chiefs won 21-19 in Hamilton
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
Date: Friday, March 30
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)