Everyone loves a local New Zealand derby, and for the winner of the Chiefs vs Highlanders clash tonight, there is a big statement to make by doing so.
With three close losses so far this season, the Highlanders are yet to convince that they are capable of claiming back-to-back Super Rugby titles despite having arguably the strongest line up on paper to do so.
The return of Waisake Naholo will complete the Highlanders back line, and with the likes of Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith, and Patrick Osborne alongside, the backs have the power to steamroll their way through the Chiefs defense, but they can only do this with plenty of ball in hand.
Kicking possession to the Chiefs back three should result in the Chiefs getting good go forward.
The only way the Highlanders can win this game is to throw everything they have at the Chiefs with ball in hand, take risks, and kick the all important penalty goals that will come a plenty.
For the Chiefs, the last two weeks haven’t been the most convincing of performances despite keeping their impressive winning run in tact. In the case of the Sharks matchup, Dave Rennie’s men were clearly trying to play a style of game that doesn’t fit the mode of operation that has worked so well this season, and continuing with a territorial kicking game could well see another sub par performance.
There was a big question mark over Seta Tamanivalu making the Chiefs squad due to a calf injury, but the scintillating centre fielder has been selected, and after missing the past two rounds of action, Charlie Ngatai returns, completing another return from injury.
For Charlie Ngatai, with no game time in two weeks, coupled with the fact that as recently as Tuesday, many question marks linger about how he will perform in such a high intensity match.
For the Highlanders, who say themselves that the Chiefs are the form team of Super Rugby this season, a win at FMG Stadium in Hamilton would send a message to their own fans to not give up hope just yet, and that despite the charging success of their Crusader southern neighbours, they can win the big games that matter.
This is the big mid season game that matters, and for the Chiefs, winning tonight would secure their claim to be the best thing going in Super Rugby, and increase on their five-point lead in the New Zealand conference.