Chiefs wary of Force challenge
Sydney - Defending champions Chiefs are battling an injury crisis as they attempt to keep in touch with Super Rugby leaders Brumbies in this weekend's round of matches.
The Chiefs are without star backs Tim Nanai-Williams and Richard Kahui, while All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden is in doubt for Friday's game with Australia's Force in Pukekohe.
The Kiwis need to beat the improving Force to stay with the Brumbies, who are guaranteed four competition points from their weekend bye along with South Africa's Bulls and the Crusaders.
Kahui is finished for the season with recurring shoulder trouble, while Nanai-Williams has a groin injury and Cruden has an ankle problem.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, whose team is one point behind the Brumbies, is wary of the Force, who have beaten and drawn with the Reds and downed the Crusaders this season.
"We are well aware of the strength of this Force team," Rennie said. "They have beaten the Reds and Crusaders and went close to the Hurricanes, which proves they can travel, so we need to be at our best."
The Force, who usually reserve their best performances for home games, will face a tough challenge in New Zealand where they have not won since beating the Otago Highlanders 21-14 in Dunedin in almost two years.
"We need to confront them (the Chiefs) from the opening whistle, shut them down and make them work back towards our forwards," Force skipper Matt Hodgson said.
"The Chiefs are a tough side and playing them at home six days after the Reds is going to be a challenge."
Prop Greg Holmes will play his 100th match as the Reds look for maximum points against the injury-hit Sharks in Brisbane on Friday.
The Reds, Super Rugby champions two years ago, lost ground with their 11-11 draw against the Force in Perth last week and will be looking to take advantage of the beleaguered South Africans, who have lost both their tour matches in New Zealand.
"We're in a different set of circumstances with the team because we have so many guys out," Sharks coach John Plumtree said.
"We've sent several guys home and we are only halfway through the tour. We've had to change personnel, we've had to play players out of position, it's not great."
South Africa's Central Cheetahs plan to target the Wellington Hurricanes in the scrums and with the rolling maul in Bloemfontein on Friday.
"Looking at the previous weeks at scrum time and their (Hurricanes) stopping of the maul is suspect, so we will like to attack them there," Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske said.
The Cheetahs lie two points behind the Bulls in the South Africa conference.
Troubled Wallabies star Kurtley Beale has again been stood down by the Melbourne Rebels ahead of Saturday's game with the Blues in Auckland amid fresh off-field disciplinary issues.
Beale only returned to action off the bench last week after serving a club suspension for punching two team-mates on his side's tour of South Africa in March.
Former All Black lock Anthony Boric will make his first start for the Blues in 14 months.
Last year Boric injured his neck against the Bulls in Pretoria and had surgery to repair the damage. He has passed fitness tests and has been reintroduced slowly to the contact areas ahead of his return.
In this weekend's other games, the Waratahs are back at home after their South Africa tour to take on the Western Stormers, while the Southern Kings have home advantage against the Highlanders in Port Elizabeth.