Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa: How Chiefs can turn remarkable run into final in ‘critical’ clash against Hurricanes

It hasn’t been pretty, but with just two rounds left before the Super Rugby Aotearoa final the Chiefs find themselves well in contention for a place in the final two.

After starting the year as they had finished 2020 – with a string of losses – the club equalled the longest losing streak by a Kiwi team in Super Rugby history with 11 straight between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. However, since a third-round loss to the Crusaders, the Chiefs are now unbeaten in four matches.

In those wins, they have only won by an average of three points and had to come from behind in three of them. But regardless of how they got there, the Chiefs are now in pole position to secure a place in the final.

“I think character is probably the word for me,” Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said of his team’s resurgence.

“We obviously had our backs against the wall really early in the competition. None of our wins have been comprehensive or pretty; we’ve just had to gut, scrap, fight for every inch. We’ve got better, our game has gotten better, but everyone else’s has as well.

“I’m stoked for the boys, because they’ve worked hard for this. But the job’s not done.”

The Chiefs will host the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday night as they look to push on with that job in the penultimate round of the competition. While the Hurricanes sit at the foot of the ladder with just one win, the Chiefs won’t forget the threats they pose after they jumped out to a 26-7 lead in the first half of their last encounter, before the Chiefs ran them down in the second half.

McMillan highlighted the importance of this weekend’s clash.

“That’s the critical one,” he said. “If we get that one done, I’m still not sure what the permutations are, but I guess it will go a long way to maybe sneaking us into the final.”

Damian McKenzie will return to fullback for Friday night’s match, with Bryn Gatland starting at first five-eighth and Chase Tiatia returning to the bench. Pita Gus Sowakula starts at No 8 with Luke Jacobson ruled out due to concussion. Samipeni Finau comes on to the bench, while young midfielder Rameka Poihipi is in line for his Chiefs debut off the bench.

The Hurricanes come in fresh off the bye, but are without star loose forward Ardie Savea who was injured against the Crusaders a fortnight ago. Du’Plessis Kirifi moves into the starting side at No 7 and Devan Flanders shifts to No 8, while winger Julian Savea is out of the team in favour of Salesi Rayasi and Scott Scrafton moves into the starting side, relegating Isaia Walker-Leawere to the bench. The remainder of the starting side is unchanged, with rookie duo Luke Campbell and Ruben Love retaining the No 9 and 10 jerseys.

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber (c), Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa’i, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross.

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Ollie Norris, Sione Mafileo, Samipeni Finau, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Rameka Poihipi, Chase Tiatia.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ngani Laumape, Salesi Rayasi, Ruben Love, Luke Campbell, Devan Flanders, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles (c), Xavier Numia.

Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose, Cam Roigard, Billy Proctor.

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