The similarities are clear - the unbeaten Chiefs are facing a team who are languishing in the bottom third and have recently been touched up by the Blues, reports the New Zealand Herald.
Before their bye, it was the Rebels, and the Chiefs were found guilty of easing their foot off the accelerator as they approached a seemingly inferior opponent. But after their bye and the “brutal” review that followed the scratchy win in Melbourne, coach Dave Rennie is determined his side won’t make the same mistake tonight against the Bulls.
Despite the South African side being blown out by the Blues in the second half of last weekend’s clash, despite the Chiefs being well-rested and welcoming back to their starting XV several big guns, Rennie’s men need no reminding what complacency produces.
The coach admitted his side worked “a little bit less” ahead of their trip to the Rebels and it showed in their performance - needing three tries in the final 15 minutes to prevent an epic upset. So, after the players returned from a few days’ rest, the message was obvious ahead of tonight’s match.
“We gave them time off to get out of the environment and freshen up - then they got beaten with a stick when they came back in,” Rennie told Radio Sport. “You don’t have to say too much to these guys. We had a reasonably brutal review - we talked about what we said we were going to do [against the Rebels] then showed pictures of what we did. It wasn’t easy to argue that and we’ll be better this week because of it.”
The Chiefs will also be better for the cavalry returning to their starting lineup. Aaron Cruden will again take the No10 jersey, with Damian McKenzie moving to fullback. James Lowe is back on the left wing.
In the forwards, Michael Leitch returns to the back of the scrum after a one-week suspension, allowing Liam Messam to shift to the blindside flank in his 150th match for the Chiefs.
And it’s in the pack were Rennie anticipated his team will face their toughest test, particularly if their discipline is errant and they allow the Bulls to continually kick for the corner and launch their lineout drive.
The coach was impressed with the way the Blues countered those efforts last weekend, eventually blowing away a team who could have been suffering after-effects from their long-haul travel, but from first-hand experience was expecting an improved opposition tonight.
“The Bulls will be better this week. They probably don’t have a great history of jumping off the plane and playing that first game,” Rennie said. “We played them pre-season [at the Brisbane Tens] and got beaten up physically. We’re well aware of their strengths.”
Chiefs v Vodacom Bulls
Chiefs: 15. Damian McKenzie, 14. Shaun Stevenson, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 12. Johnny Faauli, 11. James Lowe, 10. Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8. Michael Leitch, 7. Sam Cane (co-captain), 6. Liam Messam, 5. Brodie Retallick, 4. Dominic Bird, 3. Nepo Laulala, 2. Hika Elliot, 1. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. Replacements: 16. Brayden Mitchell, 17. Kane Hames, 18. Atu Moli, 19. Taleni Seu, 20. Mitchell Karpik, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Stephen Donald, 23. Solomon Alaimalo.
Vodacom Bulls: 15. Jesse Kriel, 14. Travis Ismaiel, 13. Jan Serfontein, 12. Burger Odendaal, 11. Jamba Ulengo, 10. Handré Pollard, 9. Rudy Paige, 8. Arno Botha, 7. Nick de Jager, 6. Ruan Steenkamp, 5. Lood de Jager, 4. RG Snyman, 3. Trevor Nyakane, 2. Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1. Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: 16. Edgar Marutlulle, 17. Lizo Gqoboka, 18. Jacobie Adriaanse, 19. Jason Jenkins, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Piet van Zyl, 22. Tian Schoeman, 23. Warrick Gelant.
Date: Saturday, 1 April
SA Time: 08h35
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Nick Briant (NZ)
Assistant referee: Paul Williams, Cam Stone (NZ)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (NZ)