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Preview: Blues v Chiefs

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Sportal.co.nz     31 May 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Saturday June 2 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 18; Blues 10, Chiefs 8.

LAST TIME: March 2, 2012 (Hamilton, round 2) – Chiefs 29-14 Blues.

WALKING WOUNDED: Gareth Anscombe became the latest in a long line of Blues casualties this season with a broken ankle, which will end his season. The Chiefs do not have any major injury concerns at this stage.

FORM:
Blues:
Round 10: lost to Reds 11-23 (h)
Round 11: lost to Hurricanes 19-35 (a)
Round 12: beat Lions 25-3 (h)
Round 13: lost to Crusaders 12-59 (a)
Round 14: lost to Highlanders 20-27 (h)

Chiefs:
Round 10: beat Hurricanes 33-14 (h)
Round 11: beat Lions 34-21 (h)
Round 12: lost to Reds 27-42 (a)
Round 13: bye
Round 14: beat Bulls 28-22 (h)

The Blues might have played better against the Highlanders, but they could hardly go the other way after that record thumping from the Crusaders. They still died by their own hands, turning over too much ball too easily and all but one of the Highlanders tries came off soft mistakes. When the All Black contingent arrived off the bench they did make an impact but, at 6-27, it was in an all but impossible cause. The Blues managed to get a couple of tries back but the final series was a snapshot of their season; when control was needed there was a fumble, the forwards got run over and the Highlanders ran the clock out in expert fashion.

The Chiefs had to work hard against the Bulls and, for the first time all year, that included recovering after trailing at halftime. They did it in good style, playing some controlled yet aggressive rugby in the second spell and finishing a couple of excellent team tries – both from set pieces – to grab the four points. The forwards stood up to a tough examination well, while the backs always had a lot more snap about them than their opposition. Now back in the overall lead, the Chiefs are probably one win away from securing a playoff spot but that is only phase one for a team that should now be eyeing up home fixtures and a week off.

WHO'S HOT: The Blues have had few reliable players this season, but Tony Woodcock and Luke Braid are two whose formline has hardly wavered. Woodcock has been back to his best after a decent layoff, providing power in the scrum and strength around the park. Braid has been a non-stop trier in many losing causes, switching positions as required and giving honest effort wherever he’s used. After weeks of indifferent form Ma’a Nonu looked a lot sharper last week and, for the first time in a while, threatened to break the line with every touch. We all know what he’s capable of, but the Blues have seen precious little of that form until last Saturday.

The Chiefs, like the best Crusaders teams, are getting match-winning performances from their stars when needed and plenty of honest effort from the good-but-not-great players in the side. Ben Afeaki made a strong comeback from his broken arm with a rugged 80-minute effort against the big Bulls front row, which suggests he’s made a decent recovery. Tanerau Latimer is another who gets little ink, but his effectiveness around the pitch can be gauged by the number of turnovers the Chiefs win and the small number of holes in the defensive line. It may not be pretty work, but someone has to do it. Winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma finished an excellent try on Friday and you tend to forget this bloke was playing Heartland rugby only a couple of years ago. Fast and aggressive, he has been one of the most improved players in a seriously improved team.

WE THINK: If the Chiefs lose this, both teams should be swabbed. They have played very well all season, apart from that 11-minute collapse at Brisbane, and are doing almost everything right most of the time. They have talent through the team, enough stars to break games open and a work ethic that would be the envy of many sides. Assuming the Auckland weather plays ball, the Chiefs should win this match on the bit, and collect a fifth point as well.

TEAMS:
Blues: TBA

Chiefs: TBA


REFEREE: Chris Pollock (NZ)