SR Preview: Round Three, Part One
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It is one of the most highly anticipated matches of the early rounds, but an adverse weather system may put a dampener on the opening match of the weekend.
A weather system drenching the North Island looks set to continue battering the Waikato region.
The front had already taken its toll on the top of the North Island, with widespread flooding, and weather reports suggest there will be 'periods of rain, possible heavy falls' in Hamilton on Friday.
Maybe the teams will be forced to change tactics a bit, but the encounter between the Chiefs and Hurricanes will still be a cracker.
In the other Friday match the Brumbies host the Western Force in Canberra.
We look at the Friday matches!
Friday, March 10
Chiefs v Hurricanes
(FMG Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The weather forecast for Hamilton on Friday is not good: Periods of rain, possible heavy falls. String winds can be expected.
However, the defending champion Hurricanes will be determined to continue their impressive early season form - which has seen them score 24 tries in two huge wins, over the Sunwolves (83-13) and the Rebels (71-6).
The Chiefs, although by smaller margins, were equally impressive in dismantling the Highlanders (24-15) and Blues (41-26) in rounds one and two.
Despite the weather predictions, expectations are that the teams will only make 'minor' adjustments to their game plans.
"The boys should have the skill set to be able to handle it," Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes told stuff.co.nz.
"If it's atrocious conditions, we'll alter things a bit but we won't too much, to allow for the weather, because we don't think it will be that bad."
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said he was expecting the Chiefs to provide a major step up in physicality and intensity from the opening two weeks - which many pundits feel were games that did not fully test the defending champions.
"We are under no illusions what the Chiefs will bring to the table," Boyd said.
"We expect a really tough contest up front and at set piece and they also have plenty of threats in the backs.
"We are looking forward to the challenge."
Friday's match represents the first between the two franchises since last year's Super Rugby semifinal in Wellington, which was won by the Hurricanes 25-9.
The teams also met during the round robin in 2016 with the Chiefs winning a cliff hanger 28-27.
2016: Hurricanes won 25-9, Wellington (semifinal)
2016: Chiefs won 28-27, Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 21-13, New Plymouth
2015: Hurricanes won 22-18, Wellington
2014: Chiefs won 24-16, Hamilton
2014: Hurricanes won 45-8, Wellington
Prediction: Hurricanes have won three of the last four meetings between the sides, including a 25-9 victory in last year's semifinal. The Hurricanes have won just two of their last 10 away to the Chiefs, although they won on their most recent trip to face Dave Rennie's side in June 2015. The Canes will be aiming to win consecutive matches away to the Chiefs for the first time since winning their first three trips there in 1996, 1998 and 2000; the Hurricanes' five victories away to the Chiefs have all come by eight points or fewer. The Chiefs have won their opening two games and are aiming to start their season with three consecutive victories for the third time in the last four years, a feat they had managed just once previously (2010). The Hurricanes have scored 24 tries in their last two games, more than they had scored in their six games prior (23). The bookmakers are having trouble separating the two teams, but we feel home ground advantage may help the Chiefs edge a thriller - by five points or less.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Sabastian Siataga, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Loni Uhila.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 James Blackwell, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Otere Black, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glen Newman (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Western Force
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.45; 16.45; 08.45 GMT)
The Brumbies will be looking to end a two-match losing streak against a Western Force that showed they know how to grind out a win.
The Brumbies fell in agonising fashion last week, a late try after the siren to Lukhanyo Am gifting the Sharks a 27-22 victory in the nation's capital.
It means that the Brumbies are fourth in the Australian conference, generally regarded as the weakest of the four.
The Force showed a marked improvement with the ball in hand, the flair of new recruits Curtis Rona and Chance Peni adding a new dimension to the attack that had been lacking in previous seasons.
The Brumbies will need to be at their best at set piece time, the Force's mixture of experience and young guns have been showing real proficiency in the early rounds, particularly at scrum time.
Force coach Dave Wessels decision to start Wallabies Pek Cowan, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Tetera Faulkner on the bench puzzled many last week, but the introduction of three late in the game gave the Force a massive boost and a big edge at scrum time.
Wessels said that the team has worked hard in the lead up to this game and look forward to challenge in the nation's capital.
"It's a massive challenge this week," he said.
"We haven't beaten the Brumbies since 2013 and we've not won back-to-back games since 2014 and although we were very pleased to win our first game at home last week against the Reds, we know we have a lot of improvements to make.
"The Brumbies have been very competitive in their first two games of the year, so we know the challenge that awaits us in Canberra."
2016: Brumbies won 24-10, Canberra
2016: Brumbies won 31-14, Perth
2015: Brumbies won 33-20, Perth
2015: Brumbies won 27-15, Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 47-25, Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 27-14, Perth
Prediction: The Brumbies have won the last six meetings between these sides, those victories all coming by 12+ points. The Canberra side has won six of their eight home games against the Force, including the last five in a row. The Force earned a win against the Reds in their last game and will be aiming for back-to-back victories in Super Rugby for the first time since May 2014. The Western Force are one of only three teams (Blues, Crusaders), and the only Australian team, yet to concede a try in the final quarter of a game this season. Sam Carter has made 35 tackles this season, the most of any player and seven more than the next-best Australian based player, team-mate Josh Mann-Rea (28). The Force will make life decidedly unpleasant for the Brumbies, but we expect the home team to win the arm-wrestle by 12 to 15 points.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Ben Hyne, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leulua'Iali'I-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Lolo Fakaosilea, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Andrew Smith.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann (captain), 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Onehunga Havili Kaufusi, 20 Isi Naisarani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Robbie Coleman.
Referee: Peter Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports