Preview: Super Rugby, Round Three - Part One
The injury-ravaged Chiefs kick off round three of the competition with another exciting New Zealand derby against northern rivals the Blues, at Eden Park in Auckland.
Both teams have everything to play for and are looking to get their respective seasons underway with a win, after hard-fought losses in their opening games last weekend.
However, the Chiefs – with 15 players from their wider squad on the injury list – is under more pressure than their hosts.
The Chiefs will field four players who weren't even part of their original 38-man squad.
The Reds, who had a horror start to the season when they had their captain red-carded after just 10 minutes, host the Brumbies Brisbane.
The Brumbies are the reigning Aussie conference champions, but their win against the Sunwolves did not convince their detractors they are the real deal.
We look at Friday's matches!
Friday, March 2
Blues v Chiefs
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.35 local; 06.35 GMT)
Not many teams, if any, will be able to cope without 15 frontline players.
That is what the Chiefs are being faced with, as their injury woes escalated alarmingly this week.
Utility back Tim Nanai-Williams (out for the season with shoulder surgery), fullback Charlie Ngatai (knee) and lock Dominic Bird (shoulder) are the latest additions to a massive injury list.
However, they can still field enough quality to be a real threat to the Blues – players like Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick.
The Blues have their own concerns, with mercurial Sonny Bill Williams sidelined.
Blues coach Tana Umaga said the side had produced a lot of excellent work in the opener against the Highlanders.
"For much of the game we put in some solid performances in most phases of our game, and in that regard, most of the team has been retained," said Umaga.
"Some lack of discipline proved very costly and we have addressed that this week.
"At the same time, we did a lot of very good things.
"We take confidence from that going into this game, knowing though that we will need to take a further step up if we are to get the result at home that we and our fans are pretty keen to earn."
Umaga wants some "consistency" from his players.
All Black Jerome Kaino (ankle), who is departing to France at competition end, and seasoned loose forward Jimmy Tupou (ribs) have both recovered from injuries to take their place in the matchday 23.
Tupou starts at blindside flank, replacing the injured Glenn Preston (calf), while Kaino will cover the loose forward spots on the bench.
The Blues are desperate to end a 12-game winless streak against Kiwi opposition in Super Rugby.
They haven't beaten the Chiefs since 2011, though they did finish deadlocked, 16-all, at Eden Park last season.
2017: Blues and Chiefs drew 16-all, Auckland
2017: Chiefs won 41-26, Hamilton
2016: Chiefs won 29-23, Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-16, Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-18, Albany
Prediction: The Chiefs are undefeated in their last 12 games against the Blues, though the Blues picked up a draw against their domestic rivals (16-16) when they last met. The Chiefs will be looking for a 13th consecutive game without a loss to the Blues, setting the record for the longest unbeaten run of any team against another in Super Rugby history. Though the Blues are winless in their last six home games against the Chiefs, they've picked up competition points in all but one of those games. The Blues have won only one of their last 23 games against fellow New Zealand opposition, though only once last season were they defeated by their countrymen by a double-digit margin. Rieko Ioane has scored four tries in his last three games on home turf for the Blues. The Chiefs' injury count means the Blues will start as favourites and we feel they will win by 12 points, at least.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Thomas Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Michael Collins
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Mitchell Brown*/Luke Jacobson, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Tiaan Falcon, 23 Bailyn Sullivan/Declan O'Donnell.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Reds v Brumbies
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 19.00; 09.00 GMT)
Brad Thorn's Reds are looking to "make a statement" in their first home game of the season.
After last week's horror show – which saw them lose their captain to a red card after just 10 minutes – it's an opportunity for the Reds to put on display the hard work they endured throughout the pre-season and to demonstrate the ethos of their new coach, who is looking for players willing to walk the talk in the age of social media.
"I feel like in today's society, people love to talk, they love to yap," Thorn said.
"We have a lot of social media and these sort of things – that's all very 'look at me'.
"I prefer actions and then your words are respected, your words have meaning.
"I drive that with the guys – don't tell me about it, show it.
"Don't tell people, show it – through your actions.
"I think that has suited a lot of the guys – good old fashioned hard work, smarts and spending time together."
Last week's opening round loss to the Melbourne Rebels was an immediate test case for Thorn, who has set out on changing the franchise's culture.
Reduced to 13 men halfway through the first half, it would have been easy for the Reds to have folded up immediately and let the floodgates open.
And while the gates did eventually open in the second half, as tired bodies took over, there were signs of fight in crossing for three tries while shorthanded.
"I loved the fight of the guys, I loved how they kept competing," Thorn said after the match.
"There are still a lot of young guys out there and it was a lot to take on for a young group.
"I was pleased with what they showed me about who they are but we have got to get smarter and continue to build our game."
Brumbies captain Sam Carter warned his team against underestimating the opposition – despite the Reds' sloppy start to the season.
"They'll aim up because they're a young squad and they've got a lot to prove,"Cater told the Canberra Times.
"We have to improve a couple of things from last week, we got skinned out wide by the Sunwolves and our contact was pretty poor across the board. So we need to turn that around."
2017: Reds won 16-15, Brisbane
2017: Brumbies won 43-10, Canberra
2016: Brumbies won 43-24, Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 29-0, Brisbane
2015: Brumbies won 47-3, Canberra
Prediction: The Reds picked up a one-point win against the Brumbies in their most recent encounter, snapping a five-game losing streak against them in which time they conceded an average of 37 points per game. The Reds will be looking for consecutive home wins against Australian opposition for the first time since Round 2, 2013. The Brumbies have won three of their last five games away from home, with two of those wins coming after they had trailed at half-time. Each of the last five Australian derbies in Super Rugby have been won by the home team on the day. Six of the Reds' last eight tries against the Brumbies at home have been scored by forwards. You certainly can't write the Reds off, but even in Brisbane the Brumbies should have too much class. They should win by at least 10 points.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Sef Fa'agase, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhem, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports