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Surging Chiefs eye desperate champions

Published: 8:34AM Saturday May 12, 2012 Source: Fairfax

  • Sona Taumalolo and Lelia Masaga (Source: Photosport)
    Sona Taumalolo and Lelia Masaga - Source: Photosport

It's the defending champions against this year's pacesetters in Brisbane tomorrow and both the Reds and the Chiefs know it is a pivotal match in the 2012 Super Rugby season.

For the Chiefs it is a chance to bank up to nine points with four automatically attached to next week's bye.

Lose and they give the Crusaders - currently seven points adrift of them in the New Zealand Conference and with an easier run home - the chance to close the gap with the seven-times champions overwhelming favourites to beat the Rebels in Melbourne tonight.

The Reds are nine points behind the Brumbies in the Australian Conference and need to win tomorrow to stay in with a chance of defending their title, with the Brumbies guaranteed four points for the bye this weekend. The Queenslanders are already in playoff mode.

Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie is placing crucial importance on the match.

"It's a really big game for us. The boys are well aware of the importance of it and we're pretty happy with the way we've trained, so as long as we get the heads right in the weekend we've got every chance," Rennie said.

He and his team are wary of the Reds, who in recent weeks have shown growing glimpses of the play and form that won them the title last year.

"In the last couple of weeks or so they've beaten the Blues, they've beaten the Brumbies and probably should have beaten the Crusaders last week.

"They had enough opportunities and are certainly a different side than the one that played say, the Bulls and the Force a few weeks back.

"They've got a lot more steel about them now, are certainly much better organised defensively and are pretty slick with some very dangerous ball carriers in Digby Ioane and Will Genia, who are real threats."

That means the Chiefs' defence has to be at its best, but that has become something of a given this season with the exception of defending lineout drives close to their line last week, and it is the attack that is still a work in progress.

"I guess the key is we need to really challenge them with ball in hand and there are a couple of areas we think we can have a go at, but the challenge is implementing that."

With a forecast of fine, mild weather, a maximum of 25 degrees Celsius and humidity of only 52 per cent, the conditions should be perfect for running rugby at Suncorp Stadium, but the Chiefs will look to take the initiative through their pack first and plan to attack only on their terms, with the Reds deadly on counter-attack.

"We want to control the game. We want to use the ball but when it suits us. We're well aware of their ability from turnover and counter.

"We want to make use of the quality of the backs we've got too, so it's a case of being selective as to when we use it and how we challenge the Reds' pack."

The Chiefs have reinforced their pack by bringing five forwards back into the starting lineup after resting them.

Sona Taumalolo and Mahonri Schwalger are back in the front row in place of Toby Smith and Hika Elliot, who go to the bench. Brodie Retallick comes back into the second row in place of Mike Fitzgerald, and Liam Messam and Alex Bradley return to the loose forwards instead of Sam Cane and Kane Thompson. Fitzgerald had his nose straightened on Wednesday after breaking it in the win over the Lions at Pukekohe and Rennie said the coaches didn't consider him for the Brisbane match, worried that he would be tentative due to the injury.

Cane and Thompson go to the bench, where Robbie Robinson comes back from his calf and groin injuries, while Augustine Pulu is a late replacement there for backup halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who has a chest infection.

Kerr-Barlow still travelled to Brisbane with the team early this morning on a direct flight from Hamilton to meet up with his father and other family members who have travelled from Darwin for tomorrow's match.

Reds: Luke Morahan, Dom Shipperley, Anthony Faingaa, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane, Ben Lucas, Will Genia; Scott Higginbotham, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz, James Horwill (c), Rob Simmons, James Slipper, James Hanson, Ben Daley. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Greg Holmes, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Beau Robinson, Eddie Quirk, Nick Frisby, Rod Davies.

Chiefs: Andrew Horrell, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Brendon Leonard, Alex Bradley, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben