The Chiefs' superior attack will ensure victory against the Force in Hamilton on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Chiefs showed great character to beat the Jaguares, Argentina's Test team in all but name, in front of a hostile crowd of 24,000 in Buenos Aires last weekend. The Hamilton-based franchise had endured a tough travel schedule, having flown from New Zealand to Port Elizabeth, where they beat the Kings 58-24, and then to Argentina. You would not have blamed the Chiefs for fading at the end of their match against the Jaguares. Instead, having conceded a 75th-minute try that saw them trailing 26-23, the Chiefs hit back with a 78th-minute try by replacement Brad Webber that secured a 30-26 win.
Having lost at home to the Lions, those two wins on the road have taken the Chiefs to the top of the New Zealand conference and Australasian group (they are a point ahead of the Brumbies, Highlanders and Rebels). And they should stay there after round five, with another victory against the Force. The Perth-based franchise beat the Reds 22-6 in Brisbane, but lost their other three matches to the Rebels (25-19), Brumbies (31-14) and Hurricanes (41-6).
The Force have scored just four tries this season, and made the second least clean breaks (22) and third least running metres (1,364), according to the Vodacom Stats App. In stark contrast, the Chiefs have scored 19 tries – the most in the competition – and made the most clean breaks (49) and running metres (2,172). You wouldn't bet against them increasing those statistics substantially against a Force team that has missed 86 tackles in four games.
The Chiefs have had to make the long trip back from Argentina, but that shouldn't prevent them from putting away one of the tournament's weaker sides.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made four changes to his starting XV, with tighthead prop Siate Tokolahi, No 5 lock Taleni Seum, scrumhalf Brad Weber and outside centre Seta Tamanivalu all coming in. Former All Blacks flyhalf Stephen Donald has been named on the bench and will make his first appearance for the franchise since 2011 if he comes on.
The Force, meanwhile, have made two changes to their lineup. Heath Tessmann will start at hooker and South African Brynard Stander at blindside flank.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 7, Force 2
In New Zealand: Chiefs 4, Force 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won seven of the nine encounters between these sides, though the Force’s most recent victory came in round six in 2014.
– The Chiefs have won three of their four matches this season, though in each of those four they have trailed at half-time.
– The Force have won two of their last three matches away from home, though they’ve not won in New Zealand since round five in 2014 against the Highlanders.
– Matt Hodgson has won the most turnovers this season (nine) while teammate Pekahou Cowan has won four, the equal most of any player who’s yet to concede a turnover.
– The Chiefs have scored 59 first-half points so far this season, only the Highlanders (65) have scored more.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (69)||Damian McKenzie (4)||Damian McKenzie (306)||Sam Cane (44)|
|Force||Jonno Lance (36)||Luke Morahan (2)||Dane Haylett-Petty (298)||Matt Hodgson (64)|
Chiefs – Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Nathan Charles, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Stevie Mafi, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brett Johnson (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Photo