The Chiefs return home this weekend to challenge the Crusaders in their final 2020 home game at FMG Stadium Waikato in round eight of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

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Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has made a handful of changes to his twenty-three for the 7.05pm Saturday evening derby clash.

The Chiefs’ powerful forward pack remains unchanged. In the backline, first five-eighth Aaron Cruden will run out in jersey number ten for his 100th Gallagher Chiefs cap, shifting rookie Kaleb Trask to the bench. The only other changes to the elusive backline will see Shaun Stevenson return to the starting fifteen on the right wing, with Sean Wainui shifting to the left wing following Solomon Alaimalo’s shoulder injury last weekend against the Blues.

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Ross Karl is joined by Brad Weber from the Chiefs and James Parsons from the Blues this week as they reflect on another tight week in Super Rugby Aotearoa and look ahead to another big round of games.

On the bench, All Black prop Angus Ta’avao returns for his first Super Rugby Aotearoa fixture and will be joined by young lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi who returns after being sidelined with concussion. Waikato loose forward Simon Parker is set to make his mark in Super Rugby named on the bench in jersey twenty for his debut.

Gatland said he is calling for his side to deliver a performance they can be proud of.

“Last weekend I was exceptionally proud of the efforts from the boys. This weekend we need to again strive for a full eighty-minute performance. The Crusaders are a class act and will be hurting from the weekend but as a team we are ready for the challenge.”

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“We have plenty to celebrate this weekend; Aaron’s impending milestone, a potential debut for Simon and we have both Angus and Naitoa returning from injury. We hope our fans come out to celebrate alongside us for our final 2020 home match.”

31-year-old Cruden made his debut for the Chiefs against the Highlanders in 2012, two years after his Super Rugby and All Black debut in 2010. Cruden was a key director of the Chiefs’ back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013. After notching up 89 caps for the Chiefs and co-captaining the team alongside current Chiefs captain Sam Cane, Cruden headed offshore to France in 2017 to play for Montpellier.

The talented playmaker and accurate kicker announced his return to the Chiefs late last year. Since Cruden’s return to  Super Rugby he has once again been a standout performer. His leadership, experience, and ability to seamlessly direct play have been key attributes in his many strong contributions in 2020.

Cruden said it will be a special moment on Saturday and one of many great moments he has had in the Chiefs jersey.

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“I have been very fortunate to play rugby professionally for as long as I have. I have had so many great moments playing and a lot of them have been in a Chiefs jersey. It is a very special team that I feel very passionate about and I am thankful for the opportunity to represent the Club. It has been an absolute privilege to pull on the jersey so thank you to all those involved and for the memories it has brought me.”

Gatland said it was a fantastic achievement and congratulated Cruden on his impending milestone.

“Aaron is an exceptional player, a great leader and a proud Chiefs man. He has been an influential contributor to this team both on and off the park this year and most importantly a great mentor for a number of these young players. It will be a very special moment for Aaron and the team on Saturday and it is fitting he is able to celebrate this milestone at FMG Stadium Waikato in front of a home crowd. He has been a privilege to coach this year.”

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sean Wainui, Aaron Cruden, Brad Weber, Pita Gus Sowakula, Sam Cane (c), Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Tupou Vaa’i, Nepo Laulala, Bradley Slater, Reuben O’Neill. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ollie Norris, Ross Geldenhuys, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Simon Parker, Lisati Milo-Harris, Kaleb Trask, Quinn Tupaea.

– Chiefs Rugby

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