((This version of the story of the July 11 report corrects tie-breaker for second in New Zealand conference in paragraphs four-five).)
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Flyhalf Damian McKenzie has been rested for the Waikato Chiefs’ final regular season Super Rugby match against the Wellington Hurricanes, while lock Brodie Retallick has returned from a broken bone in his chest.
McKenzie was expected to miss Friday’s match in Hamilton due to a compulsory stand down agreement where players in the All Blacks side are rested for two Super Rugby games each year.
Both the Hurricanes and Chiefs have qualified for the quarter-finals and are almost certain to meet again in the first round of the playoffs next week.
The Hurricanes currently hold the fourth seed for the playoffs on 50 points and will host the quarter-final, unless the Chiefs (45) earn a bonus point victory of 23 or more points.
The Chiefs could also leapfrog the Hurricanes with a bonus point victory of 22 points, providing they managed the unlikely feat of scoring seven more tries than the visitors in the match.
The sixth-seeded Otago Highlanders are on 40 competition points and would need a massive victory over the eighth-seeded Melbourne Rebels to overturn the points differential that would move them into fifth.
All Blacks flanker Sam Cane has also been rested for the match after he underwent a head injury assessment (HIA) in the Chiefs’ 24-19 victory over the ACT Brumbies last week.
Cane passed the HIA but did not return to the field and coach Colin Cooper said on Monday the reason was to ensure the loose forward was refreshed for the quarter-final.
Former World Player of the Year Retallick missed the All Blacks’ three-test series with France last month due to the injury he sustained against the Canterbury Crusaders in the Chiefs’ final game before the June international break.
The Hurricanes, however, have gone for virtually their first-choice lineup with the competition’s leading tryscorer Ben Lam returning to the left wing after he was on the bench against the Auckland Blues last week.
All Blacks prop Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen has also returned to the starting pack, who dominated the Blues and gave the Hurricanes the stability to launch attacks from first phase.
Inside centre Ngani Laumape scored three of his four tries and set up Julian Savea’s try from the set piece, something that was noted by Cooper.
“They showed against the Blues how good they are off the set piece,” Cooper said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We’ve done some work around our set piece defence - but with ball in hand, our focus is on what we can do.
“We look forward to playing our own game.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly