Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has followed through with his suggestion that a positional switch could be in store for Damian McKenzie as the Hamilton-based franchise look to overturn their horror start to the season.
McKenzie, who has regularly featured at first-five for the Chiefs since the departure of long-time playmaker Aaron Cruden in 2017, has been named to start at fullback for this week’s clash against the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium, replacing the injured Solomon Alaimalo.
Taking his place in the No. 10 jersey is older brother Marty, who is in line for his first Super Rugby appearance of the year.
It will almost be a year to the day since Damian last started at fullback for the Chiefs, playing a key role in their 41-28 victory over the Bulls in Hamilton last year.
It’s the position of which he first made a name for himself in at this level, earning a reputation as an electric, agile threat from the back in his first three seasons with the franchise between 2015 and 2017.
As for Marty, this weekend’s clash presents a chance for him to start in his first Super Rugby match since last year’s edition of this fixture, a 28-24 win over the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium in the final round of the regular season.
The switch comes as a result of the Chiefs losing their opening four matches of the 2019 campaign, including hefty defeats to the Brumbies and Crusaders, as well as a first-ever loss to the Sunwolves.
It’s their worst start to a Super Rugby campaign since 2007, and Cooper is confident of turning his side’s fortunes around against a Hurricanes outfit that is beginning to hit their straps as they welcome back their star players.
“We have had a testing couple of weeks and we know the Hurricanes will be a strong challenge,” he said.
“We are not afraid of the contest on Friday, we have come together as a team and will focus on sticking to our structures and working on delivering our game plan.”
Other key changes includes the omission of impressive rookie wing Etene Nanai-Seturo, who has been dropped to the bench in place of Japanese international Ataata Moeakiola, while former New Zealand under-20 captain Luke Jacobson joins debutant Rory Coxon in the reserves to feature in the match day squad for the first time this year.
Chiefs: 1. Aiden Ross, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Brodie Retallick (c), 5. Michael Allardice, 6. Mitchell Brown, 7. Mitch Karpik, 8. Tyler Ardron, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Ataata Moeakiola, 12. Anton Lienert-Brown, 13. Tumua Manu, 14. Sean Wainui, 15. Damian McKenzie
Reserves: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. Rory Coxon, 18. Angus Ta’avao, 19. Taleni Seu, 20. Luke Jacobson, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Alex Nankivell, 23. Etene Nanai-Seturo
Hurricanes: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Dane Coles (c), 3. Ben May, 4. James Blackwell, 5. Vaea Fifita, 6. Reed Prinsep, 7. Du’Plessis Kirifi, 8. Ardie Savea, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Wes Goosen, 12. Ngani Laumape, 13. Matt Proctor, 14. Jordie Barrett, 15. Chase Tiatia
Reserves: 16. Asafo Aumua, 17. Fraser Armstrong, 18. Alex Fidow, 19. Liam Mitchell, 20. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Jackson Garde-Bachop, 23. Salesi Rayasi
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