The Chiefs will need to throw caution to the wind on Friday if they are to make the Super Rugby play-offs, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The two-time defending champions have been inconsistent at best, but a bonus-point win against the Blues might just be enough to keep their treble hopes alive. Playing first, the Chiefs have the chance to pile the pressure on those above them and given the Blues love of a loose game, the four-try bonus point is well within their grasp.
Their backline will need to fire though, something which it has failed to do all too often this season. They haven't been helped by Dave Rennie's constant tinkering, but with the players they have at their disposal they really should be offering more of a threat. Rennie has resisted the urge to interfere too much this time around and this should give the current backline a massive boost. Tim Nanai-Williams was at his dynamic best the last time these two teams met, scoring one and setting up another in a 32-20 win for the Chiefs. Outside of Bundee Aki, Nanai-Williams could prove the difference once again against a very strong Blues midfield.
The only change to the Chiefs team is injury-enforced, with the aforementioned Aki replacing the injured Charlie Ngatai (shoulder).
Meanwhile, the Blues have made a number of changes for this one. Tony Woodcock and Luke Braid have been ruled out of the match because of shoulder injuries. Sam Prattley replaces Woodcock at loosehead prop while Brendon O'Connor comes in for Braid.
In the backs, Charles Piutau returns to fullback, with Tevita Li coming onto the left wing in place of George Moala, while Lolagi Visinia is hoping to overcome a haematoma to his quad and is currently bracketed with Moala.
Francis Saili comes in at outside centre for Pita Ahki who has joined the New Zealand Sevens team ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 10, Chiefs 12
In Auckland: Blues 5, Chiefs 6
NANAI-WILLIAMS' STATS THAT MATTER
159 – The number of carries he has made this season (Rank 3)
20 – The number of offloads he has made this season (Rank 8)
27 – The number of defenders he has beaten this season (Rank 17)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lolagi Visinia/George Moala, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Sam Pratley.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Jackson Willison, 23 George Moala/Albert Nikoro.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Dwayne Sweeney.
Photo: Hagen Hopkings/Getty Images