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Super Rugby: Chiefs v Blues match preview
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There is plenty to play for when reigning champions the Chiefs host New Zealand Conference rivals the Blues at Yarrow Stadium in Taranaki this Friday.
Dave Rennie's side currently sit at the top of their conference with 30 points from their opening ten games, five points ahead of the Blues.
The Chiefs posted a 38-8 home success over the Lions last time, while the Blues have secured back-to-back home wins over the Waratahs and Reds.
However, the Blues have not won a game on the road in 13 matches, something head coach Sir John Kirwan is only too aware of.
"We're well aware of it, this team needs to win away from home if we're going to be in the playoffs, there's no science around that we just need to take more individual responsibility and make sure we get there," said Kirwan.
"They're the reigning champions and are a great side full of character. It'll be a big week for them and they'll probably be targeting this week as their rebirth because they haven't been travelling as well as they would have liked although they still have 30 points and for us it's a big test away from home so it's going to be a classic."
The hosts have made two changes to the forwards with prop Ben Tameifuna and lock Michael Fitzgerald starting. Bundee Aki comes in at inside centre and Tim Nanai-Williams moves to centre with Tom Marshall at full-back.
Josh Hohneck moves to the reserves and is joined by Liam Squire, who has returned from injury, and Anton Lienert-Brown.
"It is exciting for us to play our first home game in Taranaki and I know the boys are keen to earn the respect of the locals by putting on a good performance," said Chiefs coach Rennie.
"Traditionally our games against the Blues have been real ding-dong battles, and with not much between any team in the New Zealand Conference it is a massive game for both sides."
Blues coach Kirwan has made just one injury-enforced change to the starting XV for Friday's match.
With midfielder Francis Saili suffering a high ankle sprain in the lead up to last week's clash with the Reds and Jackson Willison succumbing to a hamstring strain during the game, George Moala has been promoted from the bench to start at centre.
"George has played there all year and has done a great job for us so I have no issues at all," said Kirwan.
"One of the positive things was that when we had Francis fall over on Wednesday, Jackson Willison stepped up and he got injured in the first half and then George stepped in and we were pretty seamless which was fantastic."
Kirwan has decided to leave captain Luke Braid out of the side rather than risk rushing him back too early.
"For me the biggest decision was around Braidy and whether he was 100 per cent and we've decided that he's about 90 per cent so we're going to give him a rest," added Kirwan.
"It's great having the privilege of Brendon who is playing incredibly well so that's the nice thing about creating a full squad now. You've got guys that are transitioning in without too much hassle."
Prop Sam Prattley has overcome a neck injury to be included on the bench ahead of Ofa Tu'ungafasi, while Pita Ahki is also named in the reserves in place of the promoted Moala.
Don't miss any of the action as the Chiefs host the Blues live on Sky Sports 3HD from 8.30am
Chiefs: 15 Marshall, 14 Sweeney, 13 Nanai-WIlliams, 12 Aki, 11 Lowe, 10 Anscombe, 9 Kerr-Barlow; 1 Manu, 2 Harris, 3 Tameifuna, 4 Fitzgerald, 5 Retallick, 6 Latimer, 7 Cane, 8 Messam (c).
Replacements: 16 Schwalger, 17 Mackintosh, 18 Hohneck, 19 Symons, 20 Squire, 21 Weber, 22 Horrell, 23 Lienert-Brown
Blues: 15 Piutau, 14 Halai, 13 Moala, 12 Nonu, 11 Visinia, 10 Hickey, 9 Hall; 1 Woodcock, 2 Mealamu (c), 3 Faumuina, 4 Tuipulotu, 5 Donnelly, 6 Saili, 7 O'Connor, 8 Kaino.
Replacements: 16 Parsons, 17 Prattley, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Triggs, 20 Luatua, 21 Weepu, 22 West, 23 Ahki
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