Only five points separate the top four NZ Super Rugby teams. It's no surprise then that every derby match is vital.
"It's almost worth double points isn't it? We know how incredibly important positioning is on the table at the later end, obviously we're not looking to far ahead but certainly understand how important it is," Chiefs halfback Brad Weber says as they prepare to play the Hurricanes this weekend in Hamilton.
The Chiefs and Crusaders sit on top of the NZ Conference, both with 18 points. The Blues are one point back in 3rd, while the Hurricanes sit in 4th on 13 points.
Chiefs coach Warren Gatland is expecting the Hurricanes to head to Hamilton hurting and determined to get their season back on track after a disappointing 24-15 loss to the Blues in Wellington on the weekend.
"It's going to be a derby and both teams for us it's going to be about continuity, and momentum and trying to stay top of that conference or in the top half of that top 8 and for them they don't want to slip too far behind," he says.
The Chiefs have won their two games against NZ teams this year, the Blues and Crusaders in the opening rounds of the season. Their only slip up so far has been against the Brumbies, where they were shocked 26-14 at home, their most recent match in Hamilton. Weber says regaining home ground control is important for the Waikato based side this weekend, as much as it is about keeping their unbeaten derby streak alive.
"After the performance we put in front of our crowd of our crowd last time we were here, so we really want to rectify that for them, cause we know hard it can be for teams to come here and play so we want to certainly restore that sort of thought into the back of opposition teams minds," the Ngāti Kahungunu halfback says.
While the pain of that loss spurred the Chiefs to come out firing last week against the Waratahs, leaving Sydney with a 51-14 win, Gatland suggests history may count against his side this week.
"Something I didn't know about but the coaches spoke about it, the last three times we put fifty points on a team, we lost the next game. So we got to be ready for that," he said.
Despite recording four wins and a solitary loss, the Chiefs have been slow out of the blocks in most of their matches in 2020, Weber says it's important they get into the game early against the Hurricanes.
"it's incredibly important to get out to a quick start and pile on the points and put pressure on other teams to keep winning games. We're trying to win everything and especially against other New Zealand Conference," he said.
In form winger Sean Wainui has been ruled out for this weeks game after suffering an ankle injury in the captains run last week. But almost as a showing off of depth, the Chiefs welcome back Damian McKenzie to the side after sitting out the Waratahs match as part of All Black stand down protocols.
Meanwhile Ngāti Porou's Dane Coles has been named to make his return to the Hurricanes’ starting line-up.
Māori All Black Tyrel Lomax has been suspended for three weeks, after receving a red card against the Blues, meaning another Māori All Black, Ben May, gets a start at tighthead prop.
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland says he's looking for improved accuracy this week after last Saturday's loss to the Blues, as they prepare for their second consecutive local derby match.
“We weren’t accurate enough to take opportunities and territory we were gaining in first 30-minutes against the Blues. We’re working hard at fixing that that this week, especially as this Chiefs side will be looking to capitalise on that.”
The squads for the match at FMG Stadium, Hamilton on Friday night are:
Chiefs: Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ross Geldenhuys, Michael Allardice, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane (c), Pita Gus Sowakula,
Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Solomon Alaimalo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tumua Manu, Shaun Stevenson, Damian McKenzie,
Reserves: Bradley Slater, Atu Moli, Reuben O’Neill, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Mitchell Karpik, Lisati Milo-Harris, Kaleb Trask, Alex Nankivell
Hurricanes: Fraser Armstrong, Dane Coles (c), Ben May, James Blackwell, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Devan Flanders, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Gareth Evans,
TJ Perenara (c), Fletcher Smith, Ben Lam, Ngani Laumape, Vince Aso, Kobus Van Wyk, Jordie Barrett
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Scott Scrafton, Vaea Fifita, Jamie Booth, Billy Proctor, Wes Goosen