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Damian McKenzie to make much-anticipated return in pre-season fixture but no sign of Adam Thomson

By Online Editors
(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The Chiefs will kick off their 2020 campaign in front of a sold-out Waihi crowd today when they take the field to face the Blues.

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This will be the side’s only pre-season fixture before they launch into the Super Rugby season against the Blues at Eden Park on Friday 31 January.

Head coach Warren Gatland has named a 35-man squad to take part in the pre-season match. The starting fifteen features the return of All Black Damian McKenzie, and several rookies including talented Bay of Plenty first five Kaleb Trask, Waikato’s Quinn Tupaea and Tasman prop Ryan Coxon.

McKenzie last featured for the Chiefs in their round 9 clash with the Blues in April of last year. A ruptured ACL ligament suffered during that match saw the diminutive fullback-cum-flyhalf sidelined for the remainder of the 2020 season.

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“He’s been managed well by the medical team, he’s up and training fully, he’s going to take a little bit of game time tomorrow in the game against the Blues, and then take part in some scenario situations next week,” Gatland said on Thursday.

“So he should be fit and available for selection in that opening game against the Blues.”

Former All Black and Highlander Adam Thomson, who was this week announced to be training with the Chiefs, hasn’t been named in the match-day squad.

Not quite as major news, but still interesting nonetheless, is that 2018 All Blacks tourist Reuben O’Neill will earn his first minutes for the Chiefs.

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O’Neill travelled to Asia and Europe with the All Blacks on their end of year tour but missed out on playing. Injuries then kept the burly prop from making a Super Rugby debut last year.

Today’s match will be played out across four 20-minute quarters.

Local Waihi company, Harcourts Gold Star Real Estate Waihi will be encouraging both sides to cross the try line as often as possible. For every try scored during the match, Harcourts will donate $100 to the Australian bushfire relief efforts. The Chiefs Rugby Club will also match this. Splice Construction are also donating to the Australian bushfire relief efforts, contributing a dollar for every match attendee.

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Quinn Tupaea, Tumua Manu, Shaun Stevenson, Kaleb Trask, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Mitchell Karpik, Mitchell Brown, Tyler Ardron, Laghlan McWhannell, Reuben O’Neill, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ryan Coxon.

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Replacements: Bradley Slater, Ollie Norris, Ross Geldenhuys Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Lachlan Boshier, Lisati Milo-Harris, Orbyn Leger, Solomon Alaimalo, Tiaan Falcon, Leroy Carter, James Thompson, Tupou Vaa’i, Aidan Ross, Simon Parker, Josh Lord, Donald Maka, Bailyn Sullivan, Dylan Nel, Robb Cobb, Alex Nankivell.

– with Chiefs Rugby

Chiefs hooker Liam Polwart has been forced into an early retirement due to issues with concussion:

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mitch 1 hours ago
The Wallabies team Joe Schmidt must pick to win back Bledisloe Cup

Rodda will be a walk up starter at lock. Frost if you analyse his dominance has little impact and he’s a long way from being physical enough, especially when you compare to Rodda and the work he does. He was quite poor at the World Cup in his lack of physicality. Between Rodda and Skelton we would have locks who can dominate the breakdown and in contact. Frost is maybe next but Schmidt might go for a more physical lock who does their core work better like Ryan or LSL. Swain is no chance unless there’s a load of injuries. Pollard hasn’t got the scrum ability yet to be considered. Nasser dominated him when they went toe to toe and really showed him up. Picking Skelton effects who can play 6 and 8. Ideally Valetini would play 6 as that’s his best position and Wilson at 8 but that’s not ideal for lineout success. Cale isn’t physical enough yet in contact and defence but is the best backrow lineout jumper followed by Wright, Hanigan and Swinton so unfortunately Valetini probably will start at 8 with Wright or Hanigan at 6. Wilson on the bench, he’s got too much quality not to be in the squad. Paisami is leading the way at 12 but Hamish Stewart is playing extremely well also and his ball carrying has improved significantly. Beale is also another option based on the weekend. Beale is class but he’s also the best communicator of any Australian backline player and that can’t be underestimated, he’ll be in the mix.

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