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Super Rugby: Chiefs host Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium
Reigning Super Rugby champions Chiefs host New Zealand conference rivals Hurricanes on Friday knowing victory is essential to keep their playoff bid alive.
Dave Rennie’s side enter the penultimate round of regular season action trailing sixth-placed Brumbies by four points, though, the Australian side boast a superior points difference.
The Hurricanes currently occupy fifth spot with 41 points but a bonus-point win for the back-to-back Super Rugby champions at the Waikato Stadium would see them draw level on points, but would require an unlikely 79-point triumph to overtake their guests.
It will be the final regular season match for the Hurricanes as they have the final round bye, meaning Mark Hammett’s side must win if they are to make sure of a place in the knockout stages.
It was a disappointing return from the international break for the Chiefs, who slipped to a 29-25 defeat at the hands of the Highlanders, who moved level with the Crusaders at the New Zealand conference summit with victory in Dunedin.
Contrastingly, the Hurricanes enter Round 18 on the back of a morale-boosting success after a Blade Thompson brace saw them to a 16-9 win over the Crusaders.
Following their Forsyth Barr reverse, Chiefs coach Rennie has rung the changes to his backline for Friday's must-win clash in Hamilton.
All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden is the only back to retain his place in the starting XV, while one change in the pack sees prop Jamie Mackintosh replaces Pauliasi Manu.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow starts at scrum-half, replacing Augustine Pulu, while Charlie Ngatai and Tim Nanai-Williams start in the midfield. Asaeli Tikoirotuma and James Lowe start on the wings with Tom Marshall at full-back.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have been forced into at least two changes to their starting side in the midst of a forward crisis.
Who occupies the number two jersey remains to be seen, with team management continuing to monitor the injuries of Dane Coles, Ash Dixon, and Motu Matu'u throughout the remainder of the week.
Injuries to Alapati Leiua and Victor Vito in last Saturday's home win over the Crusaders means Hadleigh Parkes starts at inside centre, while Brad Shields moves to the back of the scrum.
Chiefs:15 T Marshall; 14 Tikoirotuma, 13 Nanai-Williams, 12 Ngatai, 11 Lowe; 10 Cruden, 9 Kerr-Barlow; 1 Mackintosh, 2 Schwalger, 3 Tameifuna; 4 Fitzgerald, 5 Retallick; 6 Messam, 7 Latimer, 8 Squire
Replacements: 16 R Marshall, 17 Manu, 18 Barrett, 19 Symons, 20 Koloamatangi, 21 Pulu, 22 Anscombe, 23 Aki
Hurricanes: 15 Proctor; 14 Jane, 13 Bateman, 12 Parkes, 11 Savea; 10 Barrett, 9 Perenara; 1 Franks, 2 TBC, 3 Toomaga-Allen; 4 Thrush, 5 Thomson; 6 Lam, 7 Savea, 8 Shields
Replacements: 16 TBC, 17 Eves, 18 Goodes, 19 Broadhurst, 20 Hill, 21 Smylie, 22 Vaega, 23 Marshall
Watch Chiefs v Hurricanes live from 8:35am on Sky Sports 2HD
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Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com