The Chiefs will be looking for their eighth straight win against Australian sides when they host the Waratahs in Hamilton on Saturday.
Indeed, the Waikato outfit have won 11 of their last 12 matches against Australian opposition while the ‘Tahs have won just one of their last 10 games played outside Australia, picking up just two losing bonus-points in that time.
Both sides will be desperate for a win to keep their qualification hopes on track. The Chiefs are in fifth position in the overall standings while the Waratahs are third as they top the Australian Conference while the Hamilton side are third in the New Zealand Conference.
The Chiefs have won seven of their 11 matches this season, while the Waratahs have six from the same number played.
Although the Chiefs were outplayed in their 28-24 defeat to the Sharks last weekend, bear in mind they fielded a second string outfit. They welcome exciting All Blacks back in Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown among seven changes to a completely new-look side.
But they still lack depth in key departments with the strength of their loose trio a cause for concern as they sorely miss the talismanic Sam Cane.
Head coach Colin Cooper said that the team are doing a lot of work and planning on how to nullify the Waratahs attack.
“The team have travelled back from South Africa well, and brought five points back, which we are pretty happy about. Now it’s about getting ready for a tough Waratahs match. They have really shown against New Zealand opposition what their attack can do, so we are doing a lot of work defensively to stop the Waratahs and their attack play,” he said.
“Recovery is key. We felt there were some inaccuracies in our attack flow in our previous game and we will look to execute better this weekend.”
The Waratahs have been wildly erratic this season and one finds it difficult to predict which ‘Tahs side will turn up on the day.
There will be an interesting sideshow between Chiefs scrum-half Brad Weber and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau. Weber was an outspoken critic of Folau’s controversial statements on homosexuality. He branded Folau’s comments as disgusting so expect some tension in the air.
Folau continues to relish playing against New Zealand opposition, having now scored seven tries in his last six matches against Kiwi sides, bagging three braces in that time, with last weekend’s double against the Highlanders his most recent.
In the Chiefs, the Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson believes his side face an opponent known for their physicality.
“That’s what we are expecting again this weekend. The way they play the game, they are strong in contact and at the breakdown. They are also good with ball in hand from loose play so we cannot afford to be loose in any way,” he said.
“It is no secret that we like to play positive rugby with the ball in hand, that’s a combination of what we have been doing at training. At the same time, we are really trying to tighten up our turnovers because with adventure comes mistakes.”
The last time the teams met: The Chiefs ended a two-match winless run when they claimed a deserved 46-31 victory over the Waratahs in Hamilton last season. The two-time champions were full value for their win and outscored their opponents by six tries to four with James Lowe leading the way with a hat-trick.
Team news: Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has made seven changes to his starting line-up.
In the forwards, All Blacks Nathan Harris and Brodie Retallick return to the number two and four jerseys respectively, while exciting flanker Mitchell Karpik gets a start at number seven. Veteran Liam Messam will wear the number eight jersey.
Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown return to the backline after time at the All Blacks camp, and Toni Pulu starts at right wing. It’s a first chance this season to see the midfield pairing of Charlie Ngatai and Lienert-Brown in action together, which fans can get excited about.
Newest All Blacks recruits Karl Tu’inukuafe and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi both feature in the 23, with Tu’inukuafe starting at loosehead and Tahuriorangi on the bench.
The return of scrum-half Nick Phipps to the starting XV is the only change to the Waratahs’ run-on team. Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has also named rookie back-row Brad Wilkin on the bench, alongside veteran prop Paddy Ryan.
2017: Chiefs won 46-31 in Hamilton
2016: Waratahs won 45-25 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 33-17 in New Plymouth
2013: Waratahs won 25-20 in Sydney
2012: Chiefs won 30-13 in Hamilton
2011: Waratahs won 23-16 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 46-19 in Hamilton
2009: Waratahs won 11-07 in Sydney
2008: Chiefs won 20-17 in Hamilton
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (c), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Waikato Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Mabey (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
Television match official: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)