Preview: Chiefs vs Rebels

The Chiefs' run of three games without a win will give the Rebels hope in Hamilton on Saturday.

Now back at home after a defeat to the Force was backed up by two draws in South Africa, Dave Rennie's men need an 80-minute performance.

Sluggish starts have been the Chiefs' problem, with one game possibly forgivable, but back-to-back slumps have led to boss Rennie sounding an alarm, with changes both in personnel and position demonstrating that the champions' coach has been far from pleased with his players.

This week he's had to make an enforced change due to the injury suffered by Aaron Cruden so up steps Gareth Anscombe as the flyhalf. Augustine Pulu is retained ahead of All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow while Bundee Aki makes his 2014 debut as Tom Marshall moves to 15.

On paper it is, of course, a strong line-up from a franchise that possesses unrivalled depth, but of late there has been more than a suspicion that they're not as invincible as thought. The Cheetahs found that a direct running game led by Sarel Pretorius rocked them to their core.

What's missing is hard to pinpoint but on the flip side one must applaud their comebacks in Pretoria and Bloemfontein as only they could have done that, with Liam Messam and Tim Nanai-Williams prominent. This week the former is rested in a pre-planned move ahead of tackling the Crusaders, one that should've been reconsidered following Cruden's injury, but they've stuck with it and named Kane Thompson, Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer.

The Rebels, meanwhile, continue to show flashes of good mixed with the bad as they prop up the Australian conference on 11 points from six Super Rugby games this season.

Patches of physical with a blend of attacking the wide channels strongly have seen the likes of Luke Jones, Scott Higginbotham and Jason Woodward demonstrate their importance to the team, but there are just those lapses in their game plan that cost them time and again.

Last year's meeting saw a high-scoring affair that the Chiefs won 39-33, with Anscombe scoring a hat-trick from fullback. Unfortunately for the Rebels we can see something similar result-wise as the Chiefs should find their mojo. Rennie will hope it's from minute one.

Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mils Muliaina, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick (c), 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.

Rebels – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.

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Simon Borchardt