All Blacks props return to action as Chiefs eye up former bogey-team Reds
The Chiefs are finally starting to get back some of their forward artillery as they enter the final month of their 2021 campaign.
The team has been besotted with injuries this season with the likes of experienced operators Sam Cane, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Reuben O’Neill, Mitch Brown, Quinn Tupaea and Naitoa Ah Kuoi all spending countless games on the sidelines.
With just three regular-season rounds left in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, coach Clayton McMillan must be confident that he has the cattle at his disposal to make the most of the final, especially with a few of the above players returning in recent weeks.
The trio of Ta’avao, Brown, Tupaea and O’Neill are all set to return to action against the Reds this weekend, with the former two named to start in Saturday’s match.
Ta’avao will take over from Sione Mafileo at tighthead prop while Brown will slot into the second row ahead of rookie Josh Lord.
There are two other changes to the forwards with Bradley Slater handed the No 2 jersey for just the second time this season and Pita Gus Sowakula swapping back into the starting side for 182-cap Chiefs legend Liam Messam.
In the backs, Damian McKenzie will once again line up at first five-eighth but it’s 22-year-old Kaleb Trask who will play at fullback, with Chase Tiatia shifting to the left wing for Jonah Lowe, who is sidelined with a hamstring strain.
2018 All Blacks tourist O’Neill, who has been sidelined due to concussion, joins the bench at the expense of youngster Ollie Norris.
All Blacks prop Atu Moli made a successful return to Super Rugby last week but illness kept him off the training field this week and has prevented him from notching up a second straight match. Instead, he’ll play club rugby back in New Zealand.
The other significant return on the bench is midfielder Tupaea who was expected to be absent for the rest of the season after suffering an MCL injury earlier in the year.
While the Chiefs have won their last five encounters with the Reds, there was a period during the early 2010s where the Queenslanders won four matches on the trot. Having been put to the sword by the Crusaders in Brisbane last weekend, the Super Rugby AU champions will be full of motivation for this Saturday’s match.
The game kicks off at 7:45pm AEST from Townsville.
Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Bailyn Sullivan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Chase Tiatia, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa’i, Mitchell Brown, Angus Ta’avao, Bradley Slater, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Reuben O’Neill, Sione Mafileo, Zane Kapeli, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Quinn Tupaea, Shaun Stevenson.
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