It's a mini-season of two matches for the Chiefs, starting tonight against the Highlanders in Hamilton, or at least that's how they are approaching it.
The 2012 champions are strongly placed, sitting second overall and leading the New Zealand Conference after four matches.
They know if they can beat the Highlanders and then the Blues next week on Easter Saturday at Mt Maunganui they can go into their first bye, pick up the automatic four competition points that go with it and be sitting pretty.
But, as any New Zealand coach or player will tell you, these New Zealand Conference derbies are brutal affairs and any team can win on their day.
The Highlanders bring desperation to the table in their third clash with the Chiefs this year, having lost all three of their matches to date, including the season opener against the Chiefs in Dunedin.
"We're well aware of their circumstances. Their media have been doing a lot of talk about the fact they've got their backs to the wall and that they'll take confidence from the fact they've been up here before and beaten us [2012 season opener]," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
"We haven't talked anything about the trip back [from South Africa] and the wear and tear of that. The focus has been really good, the boys are well aware of the importance of the game and if we can win this it puts us in a strong position in our conference and if we don't we're back in the pack.
"Regardless of the Highlanders' situation, it's a bloody important game for us. We're down to a little mini-season now with the Highlanders and the Blues and then we've got a break so it's really important we get the next couple of weeks right."
It hasn't escaped the notice of the Chiefs that the draw has not been kind to them, having to play a Friday night game on their return from South Africa, while both Australian away games later in the season will feature six-day turnarounds.
"But the draw is what it is and we've just got to get on with it."
If tonight's game measures up to the round-one clash then we are in for an exciting match with both teams willing at the contest for the ball but just as willing to use width in their attack.
"I expect a very similar game. Both sides are positive and both sides will counter from anywhere but we'll both want to get a bit of dominance up front to give us those opportunities," Rennie said.
The Chiefs' defence has again been key this season but, of the eight tries they have conceded in four matches, three came against the Highlanders.
"We put ourselves under pressure last time we played them because we turned a bit of pill over and, if you do that, they are going to counter attack just like we do, so we need to make sure we look after the ball."
Discipline is also a catchword for the Chiefs this week after a rash of penalties and yellow cards.
There is a more balanced look to the Highlanders this week with the return of All Blacks second-five Ma'a Nonu the key change.
Promising Manawatu teenager Jason Emery will play outside Nonu in the No 12 jersey.
In the forwards Josh Bekhuis returns to the second row with stand-in skipper Brad Thorn, meaning Jarrad Hoeata moves to the side of the scrum in place of Joe Wheeler.
The Highlanders' hooker injury problems mean Liam Coltman starts in the No 2 jersey with veteran Southlander Jason Rutledge on the bench.
Former Crusaders tighthead prop Chris King plays his 100th Super Rugby game.
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Nick Crosswell, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Mike Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Afeaki, Romana Graham, Tanerau Latimer, August Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Richard Kahui.
Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliott Dixon, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Brad Thorn (c), Chris King, Liam Coltman, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Joe Wheeler, Tim Boys, Frae Wilson, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Jonathon White
Kickoff: 7.35 tonight, Waikato Stadium
- © Fairfax NZ News
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