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Super Rugby preview: Chiefs host Waratahs at Yarrow Stadium
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Waratahs can move level with Super Rugby leaders Sharks with a bonus-point win over defending champions Chiefs in New Plymouth on Saturday.
The New South Wales franchise are just five points adrift of Jake White's Sharks, who face the Stormers in Saturday's final fixture, and victory over the Chiefs would place pressure on the South African table-toppers.
A shock 45-8 reverse at the hands of compatriots Hurricanes last weekend saw the Chiefs slip out of the play-off places for the first time this campaign.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs enter the match on the back of three successive wins which have seen them score a combined total of 121 points, including 15 tries.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has given his starting XV a major reshuffle following their 37-point defeat in Round 15.
"With only two points separating the top four teams in the New Zealand Conference, every game is vital and this stems as season defining," said Rennie.
"Again, we bring a high quality opponent to New Plymouth. The Waratahs have been impressive and lead the Australian Conference."
The changes to the Chiefs team, begins in the forwards with Jamie Mackintosh starting at prop and Matt Symons at lock, while Liam Messam reclaims his six jersey with Liam Squire starting at No 8.
Aaron Cruden captains a wounded Chiefs side from fly-half, with Andrew Horrell coming in at inside centre where he will partner Tim Nanai-Williams.
Meanwhile, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has named the same team that defeated the Melbourne Rebels for the trip to Yarrow Stadium.
"I think against the Chiefs, it is the right formula," said Cheika. "The team has a good balance: there's good mobility, good physicality, a bit of hard, straight running, a bit of footwork, a bit of everything and it is important to have a balance to beat the Chiefs."
"The issue isn't about how the opposition comes out, it's how we come out. In the past we've worried too much about how the opposition is going to play and we've reacted to that.
"If we want to be known as the hardest working team in the competition, this is the game to do it.
Out to prove he's still got what it takes after missing selection in the Wallabies' 32-man squad, the Waratahs' most capped Super Rugby prop Benn Robinson will start at openside, with Paddy Ryan, who made the train-on squad, at tighthead and Wallaby Tatafu Polota Nau at hooker.
Brushing aside talk that he could be in line for the Australian captaincy, Michael Hooper will remain focussed on domestic affairs alongside captain Dave Dennis in the back row, alongside Wycliff Palu who continues in the No 8 jersey.
Wallaby squad members Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley continue their outstanding half-back pairing, while Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper pair up in the centres alongside a back three consisting of Rob Horne, Alofa Alofa and Israel Folau.
Chiefs: 15 Marshall, 14 Sweeney, 13 Nanai-Williams, 12 Horrell, 11 Tikoirotuma, 10 Cruden (capt), 9 Kerr-Barlow; 1 Mackintosh, 2 Harris, 3 Tameifuna, 4 Symons, 5 Retallick, 6 Messam, 7 Cane, 8 Squire.
Replacements: 16 Schwalger, 17 Manu, 18 Hohneck, 19 Fitzgerald, 20 Latimer, 21 Weber, 22 Anscombe, 23 Aki.
Waratahs: 15 Folau, 14 Alofa, 13 Ashley-Cooper, 12 Beale, 11 Horne, 10 Foley, 9 Phipps; 1 Robinson, 2 Nau, 3 Ryan, 4 Potgieter, 5 Douglas, 6 Dennis (capt), 7 Hooper, 8 Palu.
Replacements: 16 Roach, 17 Tilse, 18 Kepu, 19 Skelton, 20 Hoiles, 21 McKibbin, 22 Lance, 23 Carraro.
You can watch Chiefs v Lions live from 5:35am on Sky Sports 4HD
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com