The Chiefs return home to FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday 8 February following their 37-29 victory over the Blues in their opening match of the season.

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Head Coach Warren Gatland has named his side to challenge the defending champions the Crusaders at the earlier kick off time of 7.05pm.

Following an 80-minute performance in the season opener, prop Aidan Ross will again start at loosehead alongside hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho. Joining the pair will be All Black prop Atu Moli in the only change to the forward pack, replacing Nepo Laulala who has been side-lined with a knee injury.

The locking combination of Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown alongside loose forwards Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik remain unchanged as does Gallagher Chiefs captain Sam Cane at number eight.

In the backs, halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will combine with the experienced Aaron Cruden who will don the number ten jersey, with his understudy Kaleb Trask securing a spot on the bench in jersey 22.

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All Black Anton Lienert-Brown will join Quinn Tupaea starting in the midfield at 12 and 13 respectively, with Alex Nankivell covering on the bench in jersey 23.

The only other change to the talented backline will see the eagerly anticipated return of All Black Damian McKenzie at fullback.

On the bench, hooker Bradley Slater will be joined by experienced Bay of Plenty prop in Ross Geldenhuys who will debut for the Chiefs. Fellow debutant Waikato prop Ollie Norris will look to come off the bench for his Super Rugby debut.

Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Pita Gus Sowakula will provide loose forward cover once again in addition to All Black Brad Weber covering Tahuriorangi at halfback.

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Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing the Gallagher Chiefs challenge the defending titleholders.

“Last week we achieved the desired result on the scoreboard, but there were plenty of learnings for the group. This week we need to take those learnings and implement them, ensuring we are patient with ball in hand and a nuisance when we are defending.

“The Crusaders are a formidable pack and set a great challenge for us. The only way we are going to continue to improve is by playing the best, so this will be a great contest for us and one we are preparing well for.”

Gatland continued: “It is great that we are celebrating our members this weekend. They are the core of our loyal fan base. We know their support will be huge for the team this weekend and we are looking forward to hearing them cheer us on.”

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown, Solomon Alaimalo, Aaron Cruden, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sam Cane (c), Mitchell Karpik, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Tyler Ardron, Atu Moli, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Ross Geldenhuys, Ollie Norris, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Brad Weber, Kaleb Trask, Alex Nankivell.

– with Chiefs Rugby

Featuring a host of international stars including Dan Carter, Samu Kerevi, Duane Vermuelen, Brodie Retallick, Andy Ellis, Matt Giteau, RG Snyman, Tevita Li and more! Catch up on all the highlights from Round 4 of the Japanese Top League:

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