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Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes

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Sportal.co.nz     27 Jun 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 21, Chiefs 9, Hurricanes 11, drawn 1
LAST TIME: Round 14, 2013 - Chiefs 17-12 Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium

MISSING IN ACTION:
Prop Ben Tameifuna goes back to the bench in favour of Ben Afeaki, who had his first taste of international rugby against the French during the 3-0 series win in June.

Flanker Tanerau Latimer gets an opportunity to press for more game time with an eye to the rest of the Super Rugby season with a start at the expense of Sam Cane. Andrew Horrell makes his return from a long injury layoff and will make an appearance of the bench, as will fellow back utility Charlie Ngatai.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have a number of injury concerns heading into Friday's crucial match. Andre Taylor continues to sit out the campaign with a shoulder injury, while Tim Bateman (knee), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (knee), Motu Matu'u (arm) and Faifili Levave (foot) are also under injury clouds.

Ardie Savea wasn't considered because he was away with the New Zealand Under-20 team. They finished fourth at the IRB Junior World Championships in June.

Levave is being given until the 11th hour to overcome his injury. If he is unable, then Blade Thomson could make his debut for the franchise from the bench.

FORM:
A bye a week before the June international window gave the Chiefs a much-needed break. While other teams have taken a week or so off, the Waikato franchise has continued to push hard despite a lack of on-field simulation.

The defending champions narrowly defeated a Bay of Plenty/Counties Manukau selection team last Saturday, but by all accounts the coaches and players were happy enough to blow out the cobwebs ahead of Friday's match.

The visitors, meanwhile, will be stressing the importance of these next three weeks. With three matches to play, the Wellington franchise needs to overcome a seven-point deficit to make the top six.

It's a tough ask. With a potentially double-point clash against the Crusaders in the final round, the team they'll need to surpass to make the six, it's a thrilling climax to the season that can only be focused on if they're to beat the Chiefs on Friday.

The Hurricanes will be inspired by a non-competition victory over the Crusaders during the break which could give all 23 players a big boost ahead of the Hamilton trip.

The last encounter saw the Chiefs snap a 12-year losing streak in Wellington, with Latimer crossing over for the winner in a 17-12 result for the defending champions.

WE THINK: With desperation aiding the Hurricanes it could be a tough ask for the defending Investec Super Rugby champions to stop the Wellington franchise.

However, the Chiefs' ability to grind out wins based on defence over the last few rounds should have them as firm favourites. Expect an entertaining encounter and a thrilling finish that should ultimately end the Hurricanes' season. Chiefs by 10