James Lowe will be a key man when the Chiefs look to bag a bonus-point victory against the hapless Blues in Hamilton, writes JON CARDINELLI.
How bad have the Blues been this season? Their win 0-6 record and position on the Vodacom Super Rugby log (15th) only tells part of the story. The players have struggled to gel as a unit, and their game plan has not worked. Coach John Kirwan has had no answers, and there are rumours that he may not last the season.
The bad news for the Blues and Kirwan is the Auckland-based side will front the Chiefs this Saturday. It seems likely the Blues will lose this match, and concede four tries in the process.
The Chiefs are clearly after a full haul of five log points. Coach Dave Rennie has selected a full-strength starting XV, with 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year Brodie Retallick expected to make a telling impact in the second row.
The Chiefs will apply the pressure up front, and you can bet on them using that back division to run up some big numbers in the tries scored column.
Much was made about Sonny Bill Williams's return to rugby union at the start of the season. While the multi-talented athlete has delivered as a defender and innovator at No 12, he has been outshone by the likes of Lowe in the running and scoring stakes.
With a strong pack and a powerful inside centre like Williams, the Chiefs have the means to score from first phase. We can expect to see Lowe and the exciting rookie Damian McKenzie coming into the backline for these plays. What we can also bank on is that Lowe and the other members of the Chiefs back three will be a potent force on the counter-attack.
The Blues have some equally exciting backs, but the failure of the forwards will limit the backline's opportunities. Unless the Blues can produce an atypical performance and dominate the Chiefs at source and at the tackle, they will suffer another heavy defeat.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 14, Blues 10
In Hamilton: Chiefs 6, Blues 5
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won their last eight matches against the Blues.
– The Blues' current losing streak to the Chiefs is their second-worst to a specific team in Super Rugby history. Only their current losing streak against the Sharks (10) is worse.
– The Chiefs have averaged the fewest missed tackles in this year's competition (11.9).
– The Blues rank second in defenders beaten per game (21), while the Chiefs rank third (20.7).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (77)||James Lowe, Sam Cane (3)||James Lowe (559)||Matt Symons (69)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (56)||Jerome Kaino (2)||Lolagi Visinia (510)||James Parsons (40)|
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Bryce Heem.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina/Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Francis Saili.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images