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Preview: Hurricanes v Chiefs

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Sportal.co.nz     30 Apr 2010     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday May 1, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 15 – Hurricanes 8, Chiefs 7.

LAST TIME: May 22, 2009 (Hamilton) – Chiefs 14-10 Hurricanes (semi-final).

LAST TIME AT VENUE: February 29, 2008 – Hurricanes 39-19 Chiefs.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Wednesday): Hurricanes $1.17, Chiefs $4.50.

WALKING WOUNDED: Sione Lauaki's well-publicised car accident is just one of the Chiefs worries and probably the least of them. Stephen Donald, despite ropey kicking in the last two weeks, will be missed as he has a calf tear and Sitiveni Sivivatu's troublesome shoulder may now require surgery to repair an ongoing problem. It's better news in the forwards, where Sona Taumalolo, Kevin O'Neill, James McGougan, Ben Afeaki and Jarrad Hoeata are all available for selection after missing recent games for a variety of reasons. Taumalolo is the only one to make the starting team, ahead of Toby Smith. The Hurricanes named 21 of the 22 who played at Dunedin, with one change on the bench.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Hurricanes:
Round 7: Lost to Sharks 26-29
Round 8: Drew with Crusaders 26-26
Round 9: Bye
Round 10: Beat Brumbies 23-13
Round 11: Beat Highlanders 33-31

PAST FIVE Chiefs:
Round 7: Lost to Brumbies 23-30
Round 8: Beat Highlanders 26-21
Round 9: Lost to Bulls 19-33
Round 10: Lost to Stormers 15-49
Round 11: Drew with Cheetahs 25-25

By winning at Dunedin the Hurricanes have encouraged their fans to believe they can still make the playoffs, although the mountain is high and the job tricky. They go into this round seven points adrift of the four and with two tough matches against Aussie hopefuls still to come, so a five-pointer here is an absolute must. While they cut the Highlanders up in the first half last week the defence proved unnervingly fragile and, when that was shored up, the attack withered and only one more try was added. Last week this column suggested that if the Chiefs didn't clean the Cheetahs out everyone involved should contemplate retirement and, going on the performance turned in at Hamilton, that may not have been bad advice. Sure they scored five tries, but they also missed a few chances, left 19 points on the kicking tee by missing all eight shots at goal and handed a critical try to the Cheetahs on a plate with a defensive howler. As far as bad performances go, this one was up there.

WHO'S HOT: Hurricanes fullback Cory Jane has shown a full range of skills recently, defending superbly against the Crusaders and attacking dangerously at Dunedin. He's one of the key men for the home side. First-five Aaron Cruden makes things happen when he runs at the line and could really cut holes in the Chiefs inner defence. Up front Neemia Tialata and Michael Paterson have the ability to pressure the Chiefs shaky tight five at set piece and, if they can cause sufficient disruption, will be significant figures. While the Chiefs overall performance stunk last week, Colin Bourke could be exempt from the worst criticism as he played strongly in most areas and his try was well taken. Hikawera Elliot had one of his better games in a while, especially with ball in hand, but he faces a hard task this week against All Black incumbent Andrew Hore. Liam Messam had his moments in the loose a week ago but this time will need to get more involved closer to the action, as the Hurricanes run a lot of pick-and-go and one-off runner plays. First-five Callum Bruce, who has looked happier in midfield, needs to keep a sharp eye on Cruden's running game and simply must nail his goal attempts.

WE THINK: The Hurricanes should win this game and do so quite comfortably, but the weather – the long-range forecast is marginal – and pressure to gain a bonus point are outside factors that need to be considered. We think the ‘Canes will get the four points but a fifth may be harder to come by, and tip the home side by 10.

TEAMS:

Hurricanes: 1.John Schwalger, 2.Andrew Hore (captain), 3.Neemia Tialata, 4. Bryn Evans, 5.Michael Paterson, 6.Victor Vito, 7.Karl Lowe, 8.Rodney So'oialo, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Hosea Gear, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Tamati Ellison, 15. Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16.Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18. Jeremy Thrush, 19.Nick Crosswell, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Willie Ripia, 22. Jason Kawau.

Chiefs: 1. Faka'anaua Taumalolo, 2.Hika Elliot, 3. Nathan White, 4.Craig Clarke, 5. Culum Retallick, 6.Liam Messam (captain), 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Colin Bourke, 9. Junior Pololeuligaga, 10. Callum Bruce, 11. Jason Hona, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Dwayne Sweeney, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams.

Reserves: 16.Aled de Malmanche or Vern Kamo, 17.Ben Afeaki, 18.Kevin O'Neill, 19. Luke Braid, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Trent Renata, 22. Phil Burleigh.

REFEREE: Keith Brown