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Craig Dowd

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Craig Dowd played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2000, including in two World Cups, and he was part of the All Blacks team that won their first series in South Africa in 1996. He played for the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand domestic rugby, and for Wasps in England from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, he coached North Harbour in the ITM Cup. More recently has been a SKY Television comments man.

Craig Dowd
Interesting times ahead for the Chiefs
Craig Dowd
May 8, 2014
Liam Messam and the Chiefs regained the winning feeling last week © Getty Images

An interesting time lies ahead for the Chiefs in their defence of the Super Rugby title.

It has been clear all season that they have been struggling to get their best team on the field. The injuries they have suffered have been rugged, but one of their attributes over the years has been their ability to cover those worries. But while they are still on top of the New Zealand conference, they have a daunting run through to the June break and beyond.

'Away form might cost Chiefs dear'

As part of their new ownership arrangement, their next two home games will be played in New Plymouth. This is an intriguing concept and it will be interesting to see how the home fans mark the shift from the Hurricanes region to the Chiefs.

The first game is against the Blues, their first match of the year between the traditional rivals. The Blues will have taken a surge of confidence from their big win over Queensland Reds at Eden Park, but they must address their inability to win away from home. They could do worse than claiming the Chiefs' scalp to get themselves off the bottom of the New Zealand ladder.

The Chiefs have the bye the following week, which makes victory over the Blues all the more important as other teams could move past them on the points table in that round. Then the following week they are in Wellington to play the Hurricanes.

Chiefs 34-8 Lions (Australia only)

At the end of May, and before the month-long break due to the June Test window, they are back in New Plymouth to play New South Wales Waratahs - another tough encounter.

It is clear, the way the draw is panning out, that the highly competitive nature of the New Zealand conference may reduce the number of teams who qualify for the play-offs.

There is every chance the Bulls can make good their time at home by getting up to second in the South African conference, while the Western Force from Australia face an interesting time in South Africa. If the Force can keep winning - and they are up against the Cheetahs and Stormers in South Africa, both winnable games - they will be a good chance to be the second team in the play-offs from Australia.

There is even the chance that New Zealand teams could continue knocking each other over to the point where South African and Australian teams deny New Zealand a second play-offs place.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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