The last time these teams met the Chiefs secured their place in the playoff’s beating the Highlanders on their own paddock. The men from Otago will be looking for revenge, as usual. Shame, they’re always looking for revenge having won just 2 of their previous 10 encounters with the warriors from Waikato. They’ll be hoping this time things will be different.
With Andrew Hore still serving a ban for necklacing Welshman Brad Davies, Hosea Gear has been captaining the side and apparently loving it. The skippers armband has definitely lifted Gear’s individual game which has seen him score 5 tries in the warm ups. Gear scored a try in this fixture last year.
The scoring potential of Gear, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Ma’a Nonu are immense. The Highlanders lost the services of Adam Thompson but picked up one very old Brad Thorn. Thorn’s experience will be invaluable along with that of another mature signing, Tony Woodcock.
Many are expecting big things from the Highlanders this season, including the fans who are lining up in record numbers to catch a piece of the live action. Not convinced thouogh; the Otago franchise have not played in the finals since 2002 and will have to exorcise the ghosts of seasons past if they want to advance in the competition. The Chiefs are a major bogey side for them and a tough assignment first up that they need to pass for us to change our minds about them. The good news for the home side is they don’t have to put up with any try-scoring nonsense from Sona Taumalolo or sublime assisting by offloading specialist Sonny-Bill Williams.
The Chiefs have had a solid pre-season, winning all their warm-up games against Super Rugby opponents despite niggling injuries. Asaeli Tikoirotuma scored a try in all three matches to show up all over the radar. The Chiefs won’t repeat their 2012 success but they’ll repeat it enough to kick a few teams by the wayside.
New signing from out of the Blues, Gareth Anscombe is at fullback, taking all the place kicks, which spells trouble for Aaron Cruden fans. Tim Nanai-Williams who’s covering for the injured Richard Kahui could be a hit at centre with his blistering pace and side step. The centre pairing goes back to school days and could be the solution to life without 10-Round boxing specialist Sonny Bill Williams.
The forwards will be led by captain Craig Clarke who leaves for Ireland at the end of the season. Liam Messam is top of the pickings in the Chiefs forwards, having scored 22 Super Rugby tries in 6 seasons. Last year the loosie scored 4 tries and 3 assists despite Taumalolo hogging the ball any time the forwards got close to the line. Brodie Retallick was another top performer.
The overall record between these two teams favours the boys from Waikato, who’ve won 63% of their 19 encounters. Home ground should be an advantage but the local history book is not a pleasant read for the Highlanders. The Otago men have a shocking home record against the Chiefs, having only won 33% of the previous games. Add to that the Highlanders only have a solitary home victory over the Chiefs in the last 13 years of Super Rugby. There is some good news and that is Dunedin is the Highlanders favourite home ground where they’ve won 3 out of 5 games. By contrast they’ve lost every game at Invercargil so they should just stop inviting the Chiefs there.