Hurricanes wing Julian Savea will torment the Chiefs again in Hamilton, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
On 24 May, Savea scored two tries as the Canes humiliated the defending champions 45-8 in Wellington, and you'd have to be brave or stupid to bet against him crossing the line again on Friday. The All Blacks wing has had an excellent Super Rugby season, illustrated by the fact that he is ranked in the top five in terms of defenders beaten, running metres gained, offloads, carries and clean breaks (see stats below).
This is a must-win match for both teams. The Hurricanes' 16-9 victory against the Crusaders in Wellington last Saturday took them to 41 points and fifth position on the combined log, but they have played 15 matches and need four log points from their final league fixture to secure their place in the top six. The Chiefs, who lost 29-25 to the Highlanders in Dunedin, are ninth on the log with 36 points, and have to win both of their remaining games – against the Canes and Blues (away) – and hope that other results go their way, to sneak into the play-offs. Based on recent form, the champions' two-year reign as Super Rugby kings will be over soon.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has reacted to the Dunedin defeat by making seven changes, mostly in the backline where fullback Gareth Anscombe, wing Dwayne Sweeney, centres Robbie Fruean and Bundee Aki, and scrumhalf Augustine Pulu have all been axed. That sees Tom Marshall at 15 with Asaeli Tikoirotuma – who helped Fiji qualify for the World Cup last Saturday – on the right wing and James Lowe on the left. Charlie Ngatai and Tim Nanai-Williams make up the midfield with Tawera Kerr-Barlow at scrumhalf. The only change to the pack sees Jamie Mackintosh take the place of Pauliasi Manu at loosehead prop.
Meanwhile, injuries to No 8 Victor Vito (calf) and inside centre Alapati Leiua (ankle) see Brad Shields at the back of the scrum for the Hurricanes, with Ardie Savea and Jack Lam on the flanks. Hadleigh Parkes will start at 12.
Interestingly, while the Hurricanes have averaged more breaks (9.4) and defenders beaten (23.5) per game than any other side this season, the Chiefs have averaged the fewest missed tackles (13.9) and have the best tackling success rate (88%). The Canes have also averaged the most time in possession this season (17 minutes, 12 seconds), while opponents of the Chiefs have averaged the least time with the ball (14 minutes, 50 seconds).
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 10, Hurricanes 12, Draw 1
In Hamilton: Chiefs 6, Hurricanes 5, Draw 1
SAVEA'S STATS THAT MATTER
48 – The number of defenders he's beaten in Super Rugby this season (Rank 2)
7 – The number of tries he's scored (Rank 3)
975 – The number of running metres he's made (Rank 3)
1,160 – The number of minutes he's played (Rank 4)
20 – The number of offloads he's made (Rank 4)
143 – The number of carries he's made (Rank 5)
15 – The number of clean breaks he's made (Rank 5)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Bundee Aki.
Hurricanes – 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Cardiff Vaega, 23 James Marshall.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images