Sam Cane will look to dominate the breakdown when the Chiefs host the Force on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Cane made a big statement during the Chiefs' 26-9 win in Christchurch last weekend when he outplayed All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. The 23-year-old was yellow-carded early in the match for a cynical infringement, but made up for it upon his return with two turnovers at the breakdown and 13 tackles from 13 attempts.
So good was Cane that all the talk after the match was whether McCaw was a spent force and would prove to be a liability at the World Cup. However, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wouldn't have taken too much notice of that, and McCaw will wear the No 7 jersey in England if he stays fit with Cane providing backup.
Still, Cane enhanced his credentials by getting the better of the greatest ever All Black, and will be eager to back it up with another big performance on Friday.
The Chiefs suffered a major setback when Aaron Cruden left the field after 20 minutes of last week's match with a knee injury, and the All Blacks flyhalf has since been ruled out for the rest of the season. He has been replaced by 22-year-old Marty McKenzie, with 20-year-old Damian McKenzie on the bench. It's the latter, though, who could end up making the No 10 jersey his own in Cruden's absence.
In other changes to the Chiefs backline, Bryce Heem will start on the right wing with Tim Nanai-Williams shifting to the left in place of James Lowe, who is being rested. All Blacks flank Liam Messam is also taking a break, with English lock Matt Symons taking over the captaincy. Johan Bardoul replaces Messam on the side of the scrum, while the other change in the pack sees Siate Tokolahi get a start at tighthead prop.
Meanwhile, the Force have been boosted by the return of Matt Hodgson, who will captain the side in his first Vodacom Super Rugby appearance of 2015, having suffered a hamstring injury during a pre-season match. A foot injury to interim captain Sam Wykes sees Steve Mafi shift from the side of the scrum into the second row, while Ian Prior replaces the injured Alby Mathewson at scrumhalf.
Since beating the Waratahs in Sydney in the opening round, the Force have lost eight consecutive matches and are now last on the combined log. They have never won in Hamilton in three attempts and just aren't good enough to change that on Friday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 6, Force 2
In Hamilton: Chiefs 3, Force 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs accounted for the highest ever points tally conceded by the Force when they demolished the Perth-based side 64-36 in April 2007.
– The last three games between the sides have been settled by single-figure margins, though four of the first five meetings saw the Chiefs prevail by 17 or more points.
– The Chiefs are gunning for four straight victories in a single campaign for the first time since May-June 2013.
– The Force are one loss away from equalling their worst ever record of nine straight defeats; something which occurred at the beginning of their inaugural campaign in 2006.
– The Chiefs have the lowest ruck success rate (93%) heading into round 11, while the Force rank second in this respect (96%).
– The Chiefs have the best tackling success rate (90%) this season, while opponents of the Force have made a higher proportion of their tackles (90%) than against any other team.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (93)||James Lowe (5)||James Lowe (684)||Sam Cane (91)|
|Force||Luke Burton (30)||Chris Alcock, Luke Morahan (2)||Dane Haylett-Petty (365)||Kyle Godwin (69)|
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Andrew Horrell.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Junior Rasolea, 23 Marcel Brache.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images