The Hurricanes and Chiefs meet for the second time in a week in a highly-anticipated Super Rugby quarter-final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday.
It looked as if the Hurricanes may end up as the away side for this encounter after the Chiefs had raced into a 21-0 first-half lead last weekend in Hamilton. However, the Hurricanes rallied to ensure the Chiefs would not manage the 23-point margin required to overtake the men from the capital on the standings in the process.
This will be the third fixture between the sides this season with the Hurricanes winning the first meeting 25-13 back in Round 10 in Wellington. Of concern to the Chiefs is the fact that the Hurricanes very rarely lose at home against New Zealand opposition, let alone lose at home at all.
The ‘Canes have won 21 of their last 22 games played in the capital, including their last nine on the bounce. Meanwhile, they have won nine of their last ten games when hosting New Zealand sides.
However, their pack has looked disjointed and their backline incohesive as Chris Boyd’s men have slipped to four defeats in their last five games.
The Chiefs, by contrast, are in red-hot form with three wins on the spin against high-profile opposition in the Highlanders, Brumbies and Hurricanes.
Colin Cooper’s men have the highest scrum success rate in the competition and score the most tries in the competition off the first three phases (40). But, in the Hurricanes, they come up against the competition’s second stingiest defence behind the Crusaders.
Some big guns return to the Chiefs’ starting line-up in Sam Cane, Karl Tuinukuafe and Nathan Harris, which may sway the momentum in favour of the visitors, who are looking to make their first semi-final since 2013. They may feel this is their best opportunity yet since the glory days of 2012 and 2013 when they won back-to-back titles.
The last time the teams met: The two teams faced off against each other in a tense and thrilling New Zealand derby last weekend, where the Chiefs proved too strong, winning 28-24, thanks to a dominant first-half which saw them run rampant against the Hurricanes defence, leading 21-0 at the break.
Team news: Hurricanes prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance in Friday’s highly anticipated quarter-final.
Toomaga-Allen, who brought up his 100th match for the club last week in Hamilton, will become just the 15th Hurricanes player to reach the milestone.
The 27-year-old made his debut for the Hurricanes in 2012 against the Stormers alongside long-time team-mates Ben May, TJ Perenara and Brad Shields.
He will be the fourth player this season to reach the mark after Beauden Barrett, Perenara and Shields.
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has named a largely settled squad for the quarter-final.
Captain Shields has been bracketed to allow him as much time as possible to get over a rib injury while Gareth Evans will start in the number seven jersey in place of Sam Henwood.
There are minimal changes in the backline, although Boyd has moved Jordie Barrett to centre to allow the return of crowd favourite and centurion Julian Savea to the starting XV.
Savea will be on the right wing with Ben Lam on the left as Nehe Milner-Skudder moves to full-back as the Hurricanes prepare to face the Chiefs for the second straight week after the two sides played out an exciting 80 minutes in Hamilton.
Wes Goosen, who has been recovering from the head knock he suffered last week, has been bracketed on the bench with Jonah Lowe while the squad has been further strengthened by the return from injury of All Black Vaea Fifita.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs team is boosted with the return of key players. In the forwards, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Nathan Harris are back in the front-row, and notably Sam Cane will start at openside flanker.
In the backs, Damian McKenzie comes back in at fly-half, with Charlie Ngatai starting at 12 and Sean Wainui slotting back on to the right wing.
Head coach Colin Cooper is pleased with the consistency throughout the team selected for Friday’s clash.
Cooper emphasised the importance of this game now the team have entered the play-offs and how the team will be giving their all.
“It’s do or die at this point in the season, the winner takes all and we’ve talked about the importance of giving the best you can and your all for the jersey,” he said.
“We’ve put out a consistent team. Damian coming back brings a lot of X Factor into our game. We’re excited to see the combinations Damian, Charlie and Anton will bring as well as the leadership Sam Cane displays every time he takes the field.”
Cooper is aware of the quality the Hurricanes will bring at home and knows the team will have to be aware of their threats all over the field.
“The Hurricanes are going to bring a lot of intelligent skills to the contest. I expect them to use a lot of variety and they have a very good backline so there’ll be lots of threats around the park.”
2018: Chiefs won 28-24 in Hamilton
2018: Hurricanes won 25-13 in Wellington
2017: Chiefs won 17-14 in Wellington
2017: Chiefs won 26-18 in Hamilton
2016: Hurricanes won 25-9 in Wellington
2016: Chiefs won 28-27 in Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 21-13 in New Plymouth
2015: Hurricanes won 22-18 in Wellington
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Brad Shields (c)/Reed Prinsep, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep/Sam Henwood, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen/Jonah Lowe
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitch Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Alex Nankivell
Date: Friday, July 20
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant, Paul Williams
TMO: Glenn Newman