Sonny Bill Williams needs to produce an influential display against the Hurricanes this Saturday if the Chiefs are to strengthen their bid for a home play-off, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Williams contributed some match-shaping performances in the initial rounds of the 2015 tournament. However, injury has stalled the New Zealand superstar's momentum, and many critics in his own country are starting to wonder if he deserves to go to the 2015 World Cup.
After a month on the sidelines, Williams finally has an opportunity to hit back at the doubters in New Plymouth. The Chiefs will take on a Hurricanes side that has already qualified for the semi-finals, and has thus opted to rest All Blacks No 12 Ma'a Nonu. The Hurricanes will also be without Beauden Barrett (calf injury).
The Chiefs will look to Williams to provide some grunt and guile in midfield. The powerfully built centre often attracts the attention of at least two defenders. He consistently breaches the gainline, and his offloading ability is peerless. When Williams plays, the Chiefs are a more potent prospect on attack.
And the Chiefs will be determined to produce an attacking masterclass this weekend. They will be pushing for not only a win, but the four-try bonus point.
Unlike the Hurricanes, the Chiefs have plenty to play for. A big win could see them finishing the league stage in fourth place on the overall log. This would ensure they host a qualifying play-off in Hamilton next weekend.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes: 13, Chiefs 11, Draw: 1
In Chiefs' territory: Chiefs: 7, Hurricanes 6, Draw: 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs are unbeaten in six matches at home to the Canes (won five, drawn one), with the Hurricanes last winning in Hamilton in 2007.
– The Hurricanes have won six of their last seven matches against fellow New Zealanders despite holding a half-time lead in just three of them.
– The Hurricanes have averaged the most metres (557), clean breaks (11.6) and defenders beaten this season (24.2).
– The Chiefs have made more offloads than any other team this season, averaging 17.3 per game.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (93)||Charlie Ngatai (6)||James Lowe (745)||Sam Cane (173)|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (110)||TJ Perenara (10)||Julian Savea (1,062)||Brad Shields (144)|
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe/Hosea Gear, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Mitchell Crosswell, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Damian McKenzie.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 James Marshall, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Sam McNicol.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shane McDermott (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Wratt (New Zealand)
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images