The Chiefs will be looking to build on their strong recent form when they take on strugglers the Blues in Hamilton this Saturday.
Since that opening-day defeat to the Crusaders, the Chiefs have won four games on the bounce. Their latest win, a 27-22 victory over the Highlanders, was by far their most impressive.
After all, the Highlanders had emerged as the team to beat after defeating the Hurricanes, who had beaten the Crusaders. It has brought the Chiefs to within two points of the ‘Canes and Crusaders at the pinnacle of the New Zealand conference.
The Chiefs are undefeated in their last 13 games against the Blues (W12, D1), the longest unbeaten streak of any team against another in Super Rugby history.
Though the Blues have not won away to the Chiefs since 2011, they’ve picked up three losing bonus points in their last five visits.
However, the Blues have lost 23 of their last 24 away games against sides from New Zealand, the only win in that time coming back in 2013 against the Hurricanes.
Coach Tana Umaga said he is looking for a significant improvement in their team defence and discipline for the repeat game against the Chiefs, after last week’s loss to the Sharks.
“We let ourselves down with our team defence. The boys all realise that and have come in this week with a determined attitude. Last year we were developing into a strong team defensive unit and we must get back to that level,” he said.
“We also need to be more disciplined. You can’t give away kickable penalties like we did last week.
“We want to be solid and aggressive in our team defence and in the contact areas and show more patience with the ball. Our aim is to improve our performances every week from here in which is a challenge to the squad individually and collectively as a team.”
Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper meanwhile wants his players to be focussed and to become more consistent within each game.
“We’ve shown a lot of heart which is great, but we just need to make sure that we play a bit smarter,” he said.
“The Blues will be dangerous. We need to make sure that we have our structures right, our attitude right, and play the game we know we can play. They are great ball carriers so we need to make sure that we tackle well and that our defence systems work.”
Team news: Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has made three changes to his starting line-up. The tight five is again unchanged although there are some alterations in the back-row. Lachlan Boshier comes back in to wear the number six jersey while co-captain and now centurion Sam Cane stays put in the number seven jersey and Pita Gus Sowakula crashes his way into the run-on side at number eight after a strong debut off the bench in last week’s 27-22 win over the Highlanders.
In the backline, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi gets a start at scrum-half, with Jonathan Taumateine backing him up in the number 21 jersey.
Meanwhile, the Blues welcome back All Blacks Ofa Tuungafasi and Matt Duffie into their side. Both missed last week with niggling injuries, although the squad still has 12 players unable to be considered for selection.
Northland’s Josh Goodhue earns a second start while fellow Taniwha Kara Pryor will add speed in the loose in his first start of the season after injury.
Scrum-half Jonathan Ruru is rewarded with good form for his first start, with George Moala, powerful last week, moving to the wing in place of the injured Melani Nanai, which allows TJ Faiane to start in the midfield with Rieko Ioane.
Duffie is still bracketed on the wing with Jordan Hyland to be decided after Thursday’s final training session.
Northland captain Matt Moulds will come off the bench, returning after off-season surgery, as will former NZ U20s players Dalton Papalii and Orbyn Leger.
2018: Chiefs won 27-21 in Auckland
2017: The teams drew 16-16 in Auckland
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 11-08 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
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 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 Luke Jacobson, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Charlie Ngatai (cc), 23 Marty McKenzie
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie/Jordan Hyland, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 George Moala, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Orbyn Leger
Date: Saturday, April 7
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)