Preview: Chiefs vs Highlanders

The champion Chiefs should be far too good for the Highlanders in Hamilton on Saturday.

First-match cobwebs were blown off by the Chiefs as they ground out that win over the Crusaders last week, with their attacking game set to enjoy much more airtime against a Highlanders side that had the second-worst tackle percentage in 2013, leaking 27.5 points per game.

Should the Highlanders not improve from a defensive standpoint, then this Chiefs team could cut loose, as eyes turn to Robbie Fruean, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Liam Messam to name just three of their threats. Ben Tameifuna will also look to get into Super Rugby debutant Kane Hames.

Last week, there was encouraging grit in a Highlanders team that's without the so-called bigger name players such as Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear and Tony Woodcock. Step forward the likes of Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa and Liam Coltman, with Buckman impressing particularly in defence against the Blues. Shane Christie, who is benched this week for the returning John Hardie, also stood out with his personal effort for the cause, making 21 tackles.

However, this spirit probably won't be enough to shock a Chiefs line-up that sees the return of Tanerau Latimer and Mahroni Schwalger. Both teams are missing their key lock in Brodie Retallick and Brad Thorn respectively but on balance this should be a comfortable home victory.

Chiefs – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahroni Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Tevita Koloamatangi, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 James Lowe.

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Malakai Fekitoa, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Phil Burleigh.

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Simon Borchardt