Liam Messam will return for the Chiefs when they travel to Brisbane this weekend to face a defending champion side that is starting to show signs of life.
The nine-test All Black will bring some intensity back into a Chiefs back row that struggled to assert itself against the lowly Lions during their 34-21 victory in Pukekohe on Saturday. That will be required against the Reds, who were denied a rare win in Christchurch by the boot of Tom Taylor.
The Reds looked the more committed side for the bulk of that match and only bad luck and a bit of bad discipline in the final 10 minutes cost them. They play host to the table-topping Chiefs on Sunday safe in the knowledge they still have everything to play for. Their 5-5 record is unflattering, but the Australian conference is so weak this year that the Brumbies have not been able to make any sort of break on the other four teams.
At 26 points, the Reds are just nine behind the Brumbies. With a lot of home games and derbies over their final six matches, the Reds have a chance, but losing to the Chiefs is not an option. With the Brumbies getting four points for the bye this week, a Reds loss would see them drift at least 11 points off the pace and that would be an almost impossible chase. The Chiefs must be ready for that desperation and be able to counter it with some indignation of their own.
They were disappointing against the Lions. Coach Dave Rennie described them as "flat", which might have been a slightly generous assessment.
They had made several changes to the forwards, as much to give some fringe players an opportunity as to freshen up the likes of Brodie Retallick and Sona Taumalolo. It also gave Messam a chance to fully recover from some unspecified rib damage.
"We could have forced his hand and played him [against the Lions]," Rennie said. "He was pretty keen to, but any decent knock against those ribs would have put him in doubt, so it just wasn't worth the risk."
The Chiefs have tried the left-right twin openside approach twice this season, neither time to great effect. Tanerau Latimer, who has been in terrific form this season, felt he could not work himself into the game on Saturday and the return of Messam will allow a more traditional set-up in the loosies. If the Reds' slug-fest against the Crusaders was any evidence, the tackle area will be the key battleground at Suncorp on Sunday.