Preview: Chiefs v Hurricanes

Getty Images     09 Jun 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Friday June 10 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 17; Chiefs 7 wins, Hurricanes 10.

LAST TIME: April 25, 2010 (Wellington, round four) – Hurricanes 29-26 Chiefs.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tana Umaga has Achilles tendon damage and will be out for an indefinite period but Isaac Ross (who starts) and Tim Nanai-Williams (on the bench) have returned after time out. The Hurricanes are without Conrad Smith again, as his ankle is still playing up, but do get Tyson Keats back from suspension and, possibly, Karl Lowe from the long-stay ward after a season ruined by injury. Despite what must have been a temptation to introduce a few new players, coach Mark Hammett has stuck with his regulars for this match.

Round 12: Beat Highlanders 20-7 (h)
Round 13: Beat Stormers 30-23 (h)
Round 14: Lost to Crusaders 19-25 (a)
Round 15: Bye
Round 16: Beat Blues 16-11 (a)

Round 12: Lost to Blues 11-17 (h)
Round 13: Lost to Highlanders 6-13 (a)
Round 14: Bye
Round 15: Beat Force 34-28 (h)
Round 16: Beat Lions 38-27 (h)

It's a strange thing to say about a team that's in 10th place and which has no chance of making the playoffs – and has not had a real chance almost throughout the season – but the Chiefs are playing pretty well at present. They've beaten three contenders and narrowly lost to a fourth in the last five weeks, which makes one wonder what could have happened if they'd hit the ground running. They're not really championship material, but they should be a damned sight better than tenth. The Hurricanes should be way better than ninth, too, but they have really been ordinary all season. A couple of bonus point wins in the last two rounds have shoved them up the ladder, but a side with the talent that the Hurricanes possess should beat teams like the Force and Lions a lot more easily that they did. The midweek announcements that two more senior players have been cut for 2012 suggests that things have never been right all season in Wellington.

WHO'S HOT: The Chiefs probably didn't expect Fritz Lee to get as much game time as he has, but have been rewarded with a series of strong performances. Lee has made good progress in his first year at this level and still has a lot more to come. Stephen Donald has his critics – especially when he makes a meal of dead easy kicks as he did last week – but the man can play and directs traffic well in tight games. Take him out of the Chiefs lineup and they look a lot weaker. Sitiveni Sivivatu is another who fails to please everyone most of the time, but his recent form has been hard to fault and his work-rate is high. He presents a real danger to the Hurricanes this week. Neemia Tialata plays his 100th match for the Hurricanes, joining a select group (Tana Umaga, Rodney So'oialo, Ma'a Nonu, Andrew Hore) to have reached the ton for the side. No doubt he wants a big performance to mark the occasion, both from himself and from his colleagues. After a slow start to the season, along with injury problems, Hosea Gear is looking like the bloke who tore test defences up last November. At his beat – and he's getting back towards it – there is no better winger in the country. The other three-quarters are young blokes who are looking to impress as contracts are being decided, with Alipate Leiua the more experienced of the pair but not overly familiar with centre. He'll need to be on song against a rugged Chiefs midfield if the back three are going to get many usable chances.

WE THINK: If recent form is anything to go by, we're expecting the early-season result to be reversed this weekend. The Chiefs have played soundly and have shown the ability to close tough games out, which is why we think they'll win this match and have maybe 10 points or so in hand at the end.

Chiefs: 1. Ben May, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Nathan White, 4. Craig Clarke, 5. Isaac Ross, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12. Dwayne Sweeney, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Mils Muliaina (capt).

Replacements: 16. Aled de Malmanche, 17. Toby Smith, 18. Romana Graham, 19. Matt Vant Leven, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22. Jackson Willison.

Hurricanes: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Andrew Hore (capt), 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. James Broadhurst, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Victor Vito, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Alipate Leiua, 14. Julian Savea, 15. Cory Jane.

Replacements: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Jacob Ellison, 18. Jason Eaton, 19. Mark Reddish or Karl Lowe, 20. Tyson Keats, 21. Jayden Hayward, 22. Richard Buckman.

REFEREE: Steve Walsh