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Damian McKenzie takes over at No 10 as Chiefs prepare for first Western Force encounter in over four years

By Tom Vinicombe

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It’s been four years since the Chiefs and Western Force last squared off and while the Australian side have undergone a significant revamp over that period, six players from that encounter in Perth remain on deck for the Saturday night fixture.

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Aidan Ross, Lachlan Boshier, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown, Shaun Stevenson and Liam Messam were on hand for the narrow 16-7 win and will all feature this weekend.

Right wing Stevenson will be the only one of the sextet to wear the same jersey as he did on that evening, however.

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Prop Ross and openside flanker Boshier were both on the bench in the victory while Lienert-Brown has shifted out one spot from second five to outside centre.

180-cap Chief Messam will play from the bench on Saturday while McKenzie will start in the No 10 jersey for the second time this year, instead of at fullback.

While the Chiefs coaches have been happy with Bryn Gatland’s controlling if the game from first receiver, the relatively tame kicking game of the Force compared to the Crusaders has allowed McKenzie to shift closer to the action with Chase Tiatia set wear No 15.

There are three other changes from the team that was beaten in last weekend’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

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All Black Nathan Harris will start at hooker for the first time since 2019, taking over from Samisoni Taukei’aho, who moves to the bench.

A few bangs and bruises kept Naitoa Ah Kuoi from making the trip to Perth, which allows 20-year-old Josh Lord to earn his third Super Rugby cap.

Meanwhile, Etene Nanai-Seturo’s switch to the New Zealand sevens programme sees Jonah Lowe shift to the left win and Stevenson brought in to wear No 14.

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The Western Force have historically recorded just two wins over the Chiefs – a 22-21 victory in 2008 and an 18-15 win in 2014. Both victories came in Perth.

Former Chiefs and All Blacks midfielder Richard Kahui is expected to front for the Force in Saturday evening’s clash and last represented the Super Rugby Aotearoa runners up in 2013 before shifting to Japan and, eventually, Australia.

Coach Clayton McMillan said the team are looking forward to kicking the Trans-Tasman competition off.

“We are excited for the opportunity to get back on the road again and play our counterparts over in Australia,” he said.

“We are disappointed we did not get the job done last weekend in Christchurch against the Crusaders. However, we are fortunate that this competition allows us to jump right back into work. It will test our environment and challenge us as a team to bounce back and deliver on the field once again this weekend in Perth. We trust that the team we have selected will do this.”

Chiefs: Chase Tiatia, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Jonah Lowe, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Angus Ta’avao, Nathan Harris, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Samison Taukei’aho, Oliver Norris, Joe Apikotoa, Zane Kapeli, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Bryn Gatland, Bailyn Sullivan.

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Damian McKenzie takes over at No 10 as Chiefs prepare for first Western Force encounter in over four years

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