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Damian McKenzie back for the Chiefs’ final pre-season clash against Blues

By Finn Morton
Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs looks on during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and Chiefs at Sky Stadium, on April 15, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

With some genuine star power back in the mix this week, Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan has issued a challenge to every player in the squad ahead of their final pre-season clash.


Coach McMillan has called on every player picked in the extended 37-man squad for this match to make their mark in order to “advance your case for selection” during Super Rugby Pacific.

“We have named two teams that will play 40 minutes each,” coach McMillan said in a statement.

“The message to both is clear – if you want to be playing games when points are at stake, these are the opportunities to advance your case for selection.


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“The Blues were impressive in Japan where a mix of power and speed made them hard to contain. We look forward to the challenge they present.”

The Chiefs have named two squads of 15 to take on the Blues, as well as a list of seven reserves, at Onewa Domain on the North Shore this Friday. All Blacks duo Luke Jacobson and Damian McKenzie are among those set to take the field for the first time this pre-season.

Chiefs Bronco winner Xavier Roe will line up at halfback with attacking weapons Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown and Josh Ioane also named the same backline.

But the second half is where things get very interesting. Fans will get to see the highly anticipated halves duo of Cortez Ratima and Damian McKenzie in action, as well as a host of other players in that squad.


Samisoni Taukei’aho joins Aidan Ross and George Dyer in the front row, while Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Tupou Vaa’i round out the tight five. Loose forwards Hamilton Burr, Kaylum Boshier and Luke Jacobson are also in that team.

Joining Ratima and McKenzie in the backs is midfielders Rameka Poihipi and Daniel Rona, while Etene Nanai-Seturo and Liam Coombes Fabling will take their place on the wing.

Try-scoring machine Shaun Stevenson, who debuted for the All Blacks in 2023, will line up out the back at fullback.

The match at Onewa Domain will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 1 and NZR+, but for those looking to go to the match, gates open at 3:00 pm NZT while the game will get underway an hour later.


Chiefs team to take on Blues

First half

  1. Ollie Norris, 2. Bradley Slater, 3. Reuben O’Neill, 4. Jimmy Tupou, 5. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 6. Wallace Sititi, 7. Malachi Wrampling, 8. Tom Florence, 9. Xavier Roe, 10. Josh Jacomb, 11. Peniasi Malimali, 12. Quinn Tupaea, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Tana Tuhakaraina, 15. Josh Ioane

Second half

  1. Aidan Ross, 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 3. George Dyer, 4. Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 5. Tupou Vaa’i, 6. Hamilton Burr, 7. Kaylum Boshier, 8. Luke Jacobson, 9. Cortez Ratima, 10. Damian McKenzie, 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo, 12. Rameka Poihipi, 13. Daniel Rona, 14. Liam Coombes-Fabling, 15. Shaun Stevenson

Reserves: Millenium Sanerivi, Jared Proffit, Kauvaka Kaivelata, Sione Ahio, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Tevita Ofa, Cody Nordstrom

Not considered for selection this week: Emoni Narawa, Josh Lord, Gideon Wrampling, Tyrone Thompson, Samipeni Finau, Simon Parker, Kaleb Trask


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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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