Clayton McMillan has made four changes to his starting Chiefs side for their clash in Hamilton with the table-topping Crusaders, including shifting All Black Damian McKenzie from fullback to first five.
Having lost their opening two matches of the competition, the Chiefs are flying high on a three-win unbeaten streak – with their last loss coming to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
McKenzie has been at the forefront of his side’s recovery, sparking a 19-point comeback against the Hurricanes before scoring the winning try against the Blues and kicking the winning penalty against the Highlanders.
All three of those accomplishments were achieved after McKenzie had made the move into the playmaker role later on in the games and it’s where he’ll start on Saturday evening, with Chase Tiatia taking over at No 15.
There’s one other change to the backline, due to a knee injury suffered in last weekend’s win forcing Quinn Tupaea to make way for the coming match. In his place, the experienced Alex Nankivell slots in at second five.
In the forwards, Lachlan Boshier makes his first appearance of the season and will take over from younger brother Kaylum – who started last week in place of regular co-captain Sam Cane.
Boshier isn’t the only player making a return from injury, however.
All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris, who last played a match for the Chiefs in 2019, has been named on the bench.
Sione Mafileo, Bryn Gatland and Sean Wainui also all join the reserves.
As has been the case throughout the season for other players, first five Kaleb Trask’s inability to train at the beginning of the week due to minor injury sustained against the Blues means he’s missed out on the 23 after impressing in the Chiefs’ three wins.
"I was getting tested in the midfield against Rieko Ioane and Anton Lienert-Brown … There were definitely a few lessons taken out of that game."
Leicester Fainga'anuku's full-time move into centre is drawing near. #CHIvCRU
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 14, 2021
While the Crusaders haven’t been on top of their game over the past two rounds, McMillan expects a titanic battle from the current Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.
“The Crusaders have proven year after year they are a formidable side that must be respected. They do the simple things extremely well and can suffocate you through their set piece. But they have been challenged in areas of their game over recent weeks, and the competition has highlighted how small the margins are between winning and losing.
“We ourselves have been far from perfect but I feel like we have grown our game considerably over the last month and can challenge the defending champions head-on. We were embarrassed with aspects of our previous game against them, that has not been forgotten and we are determined to perform much better in front of our passionate supporters.”
Chiefs: Chase Tiatia, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber (c), Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa’i, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Oliver Norris, Sione Mafileo, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Bryn Gatland, Sean Wainui.
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