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Chiefs lose Pita Gus Sowakula for crunch Crusaders game

By Tom Vinicombe
Pita Gus Sowakula. (Photo by Bruce Lim/Photosport)

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On Saturday night, the Chiefs will run out for their first home game since May last year when they take on the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium.

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Not since the Chiefs dismantled the Brumbies 40-19 in the second round of last year’s one-off Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition have the Chiefs taken the field in Hamilton due to the ongoing impacts of Covid. The return to Waikato Stadium will be a massive relief for the Chiefs squad and it coincides with New Zealand’s relaxed restrictions which should see a big crowd turn up on Saturday night as the home team attempt to do the rare double over the Crusaders.

The Crusaders didn’t play at all last weekend and will have been quietly preparing to get one back over the Chiefs, who scored a surprise victory in Christchurch just two weekends ago. The Chiefs, meanwhile, grabbed a big win over Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart last Saturday and while Covid is still causing issues within the squad, coach Clayton McMillan has been able to welcome back some key players for the rematch with the Crusaders.

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In the front row, Samisoni Taukei’aho returns to the action in place of Bradley Slater, who has dropped out of the 23. He’ll be partnered by Ollie Norris and Sione Mafileo.

Lock Laghlan McWhannell has also been omitted this week with last season’s All Blacks bolter Josh Lord taking his place in No 4 jersey to combine with Brodie Retallick.

In the loose forwards, Tupou Vaa’i holds onto his spot on the blindside flank while co-captain Sam Cane returns to the action on the openside. There’s a major omission at No 8, however, with Pita Gus Sowakula also on the list of unavailable players. In his place, utility forward Samipeni Finau will get his first start of the season after making his first appearance off the bench last week.

The halves and midfield remain unchanged from last weekend’s victory, with Brad Weber, Bryn Gatland, Quinn Tupaea and Alex Nankivell lining up again. Anton Lienert-Brown will sit out a second week in a row.

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While Kaleb Trask has held his spot at fullback after a handy showing against Moana Pasifika, there are changes on both wings with Etene Nanai-Seturo and Shaun Stevenson taking over from Jonah Lowe and Emoni Narawa.

On the bench, Tyrone Thompson holds his spot as the reserve hooker while Aidan Ross and Angus Ta’avao join the front row reserves and will be playing their 50th and 100th Super Rugby matches, respectively.

Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier and debutant Mitch Jacobson finish off the impact pack members with just two back reserves named in the form of Cortez Ratima and Josh Ioane.

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“The whole squad and club are really excited to play in front of a home crowd as it’s been a long time coming,” said coach McMillan. “We know our passionate fans, members and sponsors are looking forward to getting back to FMG Stadium Waikato and we will be doing everything we can to put on a performance they can be proud of against a quality Crusaders side.”

McMillan also acknowledged the two key milestones coming up for Ross and Ta’avao.

“Both Aidan and Angus are outstanding contributors both on and off the field in our team. We look forward to celebrating their significant milestones this weekend and know it will be particularly special for their friends and whanau.”

The Saturday night fixture between the Chiefs and Crusaders kicks off at 7:05pm.

Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Shaun Stevenson, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber (cc), Samipeni Finau, Sam Cane (cc), Tupou Vaa’i, Brodie Retallick, Josh Lord, Sione Mafileo, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ollie Norris. Reserves: Tyrone Thompson, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier, Mitch Jacobson, Cortez Ratima, Josh Ioane.

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