Preview: Chiefs v Stormers
A blockbuster game kicks-off the Super Rugby round as the Chiefs host a wounded Stormers franchise at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday.
There is no doubt the men from Cape Town will have left Christchurch wondering what might have been after they led the Crusaders for 30 odd minutes of the second-half thanks to fine defence spearheaded by Schalk Burger. Ultimately Tom Taylor's 75th-minute kick broke their hearts.
What twisted the knife further though was the admission from Todd Blackadder, according to fellow coach Allister Coetzee, that 'off-the-ball' holding tactics around the ruck were part of the Crusaders' style. Whether or not Coetzee should have gone public with this is debatable, leading to both the coach and captain Jean de Villiers openly admitting they would be speaking with South African referee Craig Joubert ahead of the Waikato Stadium clash.
Despite the result, however, the Stormers can still take a few positives as their typically tight defence stood out. It will need to do so again in Hamilton this week as this is a Chiefs side that boasts a lot more punch going forward. Indeed, we fear the Stormers will enjoy little ball.
The facts are that the hosts are fresh from their bye week while the Stormers put their bodies through the mill in defence, which is what their gameplan seems to boil down to. While there were small signs of improvement last week, the attacking intent - and options for that matter - were few and far between. Even decoy runners were once again non-existent as they built their momentum on one-out runners. It's dark age rugby.
As we said last year, that style in this day and age won't win titles against the likes of the opponent they are set to take on this Friday.
The Chiefs are two wins from two so far in 2014 and have done so whilst seemingly being in second gear. While they have won, it hasn't been pretty against the Crusaders and Highlanders but the victories showed champion-like qualities as they got the job done despite not being in top form.
We fear for others when they do click, which they will sooner or later.
Already we are witnessing the unrivalled player depth at the disposal of Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie as out go Mils Muliaina, Robbie Fruean and Asaeli Tikoirotuma to be replaced by Gareth Anscombe, Tom Marshall and James Lowe. Elsewhere, Liam Squire will do a sterling job at eight.
This is what will stand the Chiefs apart from their rivals this season as settled partnerships in the key areas such as half-back are nicely complimented by like for like replacements elsewhere, who all offer something individual but still buy into the gameplan Rennie and company desire.
So as one might expect, it will be initially tough to break down this spirited Stormers defence but once they do - coupled by the visitors not possessing enough options in attack - the Chiefs should comfortably make it three from three before a trip to the Force and then South Africa.
Prediction: Home win here. Chiefs by 14.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Robbie Fruean, 23 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Date: Friday, March 14
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)