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Preview: Chiefs v Blues

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Sportal.co.nz     01 Mar 2012     Getty Images

With both sides coming off narrow losses, winning will be the only thing on everyone's mind in Hamilton this Friday.

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Friday March 2 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 17; Chiefs 7, Blues 10.

LAST TIME: June 4, 2011 (Auckland) - Blues 11-16 Chiefs.

WALKING WOUNDED: The more things change, the more they stay the same - in the Chiefs case, that means injuries happen in wholesale lots regardless of who is coaching the team. Dave Rennie's tenure at the franchise started with four injuries that have taken key players out of his squad; two of them are long-term jobs affecting senior props. Ben Afeaki broke his arm last week and Toby Smith tore a calf muscle, while leading backs Brendon Leonard (hamstring) and Lelia Masaga (knee) are also out of action. Only Masaga of this quartet is looking at less than six weeks on the sideline. Prop Charlie Faumuina was ruled out of Blues contention with a minor knee problem suffered in training, and has been replaced by Tevita Mailau for this match with Angus Ta'avao filling the reserve spot. Gareth Anscombe moves onto the bench as first-five cover, but Pat Lam probably did not have too many headaches before naming an otherwise unchanged lineup.

FORM:
Chiefs:
Round 1: Lost to Highlanders 19-23 (h)

Blues:
Round 1: Lost to Crusaders 18-19 (h)

The Chiefs made a strong start to their match against the Highlanders last week and established a good lead before the southerners came back over the closing quarter to head home with four points. Injuries did not help the home side but careless moments did a lot more damage, especially as several conceded scores of various descriptions. The Chiefs fortunes this year, as in several recent ones, will depend on their ability to close out these matches with a credit balance rather than a debit margin. The Blues got off to a flier against the Crusaders, posting two early tries before the match settled into the sort of wrestle most expected it to become. In the end the Crusaders won by a point, getting up on Piri Weepu fast enough to deflect a potentially match-winning dropped goal attempt from its intended target as fulltime approached. While there were rumblings about defenders jumping the gun, no offside was called and the Blues took one point instead of four.

WHO'S HOT: Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna has been pitched into action probably before he was expecting to see regular game time, but he has a big part to play. A huge man, he is highly promising but won't have experienced anything like what he is about to face in the coming matches; if he passes these tests the side may have found a player to fill a key position. Tanerau Latimer will no doubt be looking to make his mark early and remind people how good a player he is. A veteran of these contests, his work rate is important to the Chiefs. Richard Kahui is now very much the senior back and, as such, has a huge role in getting the team's attack started and the defensive line straight. He had a good season in 2011 and now should be building on that performance level.

On the Blues side there will be regular interest taken in the performance of the team's two All Black locks, Anthony Boric and Ali Williams. Both have been bothered by injury over the past couple of seasons and several challengers have emerged for the test spots, so both will be looking for big seasons in 2012. Each player can be a lineout force and is handy around the field, so consistency of performance will be the thing they are both looking for. Rene Ranger, another player whose performance will be watched with interest, is looking to bounce back from a disrupted 2011 season and his game-breaking ability has the promise to be a major factor for his side. When he gets it right, Ranger can win a match in minutes with his strong running and distribution skills so he, too, will be looking to sustain a high level of performance over the long season.

WE THINK: Since this match promises to be tight, the ability to sustain pressure will be a critical element and the Blues have an edge in big-match experience that may prove telling. The visitors may bring a little more flair and a more seasoned pack, which is why they can be expected to edge the home side by a few points in a close-run, low-scoring match.

TEAMS:
Chiefs: 1. Sona Taumalolo, 2. Mahonri Schwalger, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam (capt), 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Kane Thomson, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Tim Nanai-Williams, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15. Robbie Robinson.

Replacements: 16. Hika Elliot, 17. Shane Cleaver, 18. Fritz Lee, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22. Declan O'Donnell.


Blues: 1. Tom McCartney, 2. Keven Mealamu (capt), 3. Tevita Mailau, 4. Anthony Boric, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Chris Lowrey, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Jerome Kaino, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Michael Hobbs, 11. Rudi Wulf, 12. Benson Stanley, 13. Rene Ranger, 14. David Raikuna, 15. Isaia Toeava.

Replacements: 16. Pauliasi Manu, 17. Angus Ta'avao, 18. Brad Mika, 19. Luke Braid, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Gareth Anscombe, 22. Sherwin Stowers.


REFEREE: Keith Brown