The Chiefs can be expected to continue their fine run of form when they come up against the Blues in Hamilton on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After six rounds of Super Rugby, the Chiefs have quite literally made all of the early running. The Kiwi side top the Australasian group after five wins from six, and look like surefire title contenders.
Their attacking efficiency has particularly stood out. Not only have they comfortably scored the most tries (34) in the competition to date, but according to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, they top the rankings in terms of metres made, clean breaks and offloads.
Last weekend, the Chiefs produced the performance of their season so far as they thrashed the highly-rated Brumbies 48-23 in Canberra, producing a simply irresistible all-round performance.
Yet, while the Chiefs are looking very much like the complete package, the Blues still appear to be a team in transition. An up and down season has been reflected by their results, with two wins, two losses and a draw leaving them dwindling last in the New Zealand conference.
And while the Blues would have been pleased with their win over the Jaguares last weekend, they are going to require a significant step up if they hope to compete against the high-flying Chiefs.
Their defence and kicking game will need to be absolutely spot on, while they will need to cut out their basic errors, with the Chiefs having repeatedly proven just how lethal they can be on the counter-attack.
Notably, the Blues have impressed with their accuracy at the breakdown this season, where they boast a 97% ruck success rate, while their 85% tackle success has also been encouraging.
For the Chiefs, though, it’s simply a case of picking up where they left off against the Brumbies, while this week they have also been boosted by the return of towering locks Dominic Bird and Brodie Retallick.
The Chiefs can look forward to a bye next weekend, so they are sure to hold nothing back as they go in search of a sixth win of the season that would set them up perfectly after the first phase of their campaign.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 15, Blues 10
Hamilton: Chiefs 7, Blues 5
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Chiefs have won their last nine matches against the Blues, which is their longest winning streak against any opponent in Super Rugby.
– The Chiefs have won only one of their last three matches on home soil against fellow New Zealand teams, although they’ve not lost consecutive home matches against New Zealand squads since round nine in 2011.
– The Blues have not gone three matches without a loss in a single season since round 12 of 2011.
– The Chiefs have scored 12 tries in the first half so far this season, the most of any team in the competition, while the Blues have conceded seven tries in the same period, the equal most of any New Zealand team.
– James Lowe (128) made more metres than any other player again in round five and became the first player this season to make more than 500m over the gain line.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (108)||Damian McKenzie (7)||James Lowe (551)||Sam Cane (60)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (66)||Ihaia West (2)||Lolagi Visinia (228)||Blake Gibson (71)|
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Maama Vaipulu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Sam McNicol.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Namatahi Waa, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images