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Chiefs welcome All Blacks halves back into the fold for Rebels confrontation

By Tom Vinicombe
Brad Weber. (Photo by Jeremy Ward/Photosport)

Coach Clayton McMillan has made six changes to the Chiefs’ starting line-up ahead of their clash with the Melbourne Rebels on Sunday afternoon.

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With just three rounds left to play before the quarter-finals, McMillan has rested some of the side’s key contributors in recent weeks while handed opportunities to some of the players who’ve shouldered a lighter workload.

The front-row of Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho and Angus Ta’avao has been maintained for the fourth week in succession but there’s one change to the locks, with All Black Tupou Vaa’i earning a rest week having clocked up eight appearances over the Chiefs’ 11 matches to date. In his place, Naitoa Ah Kuoi earns just his third start of the season despite being some a key performer for the side throughout 2021 and will partner Josh Lord.

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Pita Gus Sowakula also gets a rest from the starting line-up but will take a spot on the bench and look to add impact later in the match. After entering the season in some hot form, Sowakula’s streak has cooled in recent times and a lighter workload in the coming weeks might help bring the best out of the Fijian back-rower in the final rounds of the Super Rugby Pacific season. Luke Jacobson will shift from the blindside flank to cover Sowakula’s absence while Samipeni Finau will slot into the No 6 jersey.

Cortez Ratima and Bryn Gatland – the halves who have led the team over the past four weeks – are both absent from the matchday 23 with All Blacks Brad Weber and Josh Ioane making their returns from injury to run the cutter while there’s also a change in the midfield. Alex Nankivell, who’s started in every game this season for the Chiefs, finally gets a week off and his spot in the No 13 jersey will be filled by Rameka Poihipi. Quinn Tupaea holds his position at second five-eighth.

In the outside backs, Emoni Narawa comes into the team for Jonah Lowe while left wing Etene Nanai-Seturo and fullback Kaleb Trask round out the starting line-up.

On the bench, Tyrone Thompson has been given another shot as the reserve hooker while Ollie Norris, Atunaisa Moli, Mitch Brown and Sowakula will cover the remaining forwards. Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana and Inga Finau will add impact in the backs.

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“We are well aware of what is at stake over the next three weeks,” said coach McMillan. “Everyone wants to make the finals, ideally at home, and the race to secure points and bring that to fruition is certainly heating up.

“We need to be focused and hungry for each game starting with the Rebels this week. They are a much better side than some of their recent results suggest, and will come out firing in front of their home fans.

Speaking of the changes, McMillan emphasised it was important to have the whole squad ready to step into the team ahead of the knockout football arriving next month.

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“There’s just a need to give some guys some minutes to try get our whole squad to a place where we’re fit and firing for a quarterfinal,” he said.

“That’s not to underestimate the next three games. The Rebels, the Force, the Drua have all demonstrated on their day they can trouble the best teams, so we fully respect that, but it has to be balanced with, for us, an ability to put out a fairly consistent side, but rotate two or three players in or out.

“There’s all a bit of a method in the madness.”

This weekend’s match between the Rebels and Chiefs is due to kick off at 2pm AEST (4pm NZT) on Sunday.

Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Emoni Narawa, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Josh Ioane, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane, Samipeni Finau, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Tyrone Thompson, Ollie Norris, Atunaisa Moli, Pita Gus Sowakula, Mitch Brown, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana, Inga Finau.

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