It was apparent right from the pre-season that Damian McKenzie wasn’t necessarily going to have a long-run in any one jersey this year, with new Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan suggesting that the utility back could see time at both first five and fullback. It’s the latter role he’ll be tasked with on Friday when the Hurricanes come to Hamilton.
His move back into No 15 sees Bryn Gatland elevated into the starting team for the first time since the Chiefs’ loss to the Crusaders in Round 3 of this year’s competition – although he was brought onto the park late in last week’s match to help guide the Chiefs home in their return match with the Cantabrians.
The only other change to the side is an admittedly significant one, with All Blacks loose forward Luke Jacobson invalided from the match due to concussion symptoms rearing their ugly head on Sunday morning.
Jacobson has battled with concussion throughout his young career, with the insidious injury forcing him to return home from the 2019 Rugby World Cup without playing a match. He’s enjoyed a relatively unscathed period of play over the last nine months, captaining Waikato throughout last year’s Mitre 10 Cup campaign and starting in the Chiefs’ six opening matches of the current Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
While he’s a major loss for the Chiefs, they’re now relatively well-stocked in the loose forwards department compared to the start of the year, when they were managing with a few injuries.
McMillan is also hopeful that the two-test All Black won’t be sidelined for too long.
“Luke woke up on Sunday feeling a little bit dusty so we just ruled him out of the week but he’s been back in the gym today looking bright as anything so there are no real concerns,” McMillan said following the team naming.
Pita Gus Sowakula, who was the Chiefs’ primary attacking weapon in the forwards last year, will take over in the No 8 jersey after spending the last three weeks on the bench.
The other point of interest is the presence of Canterbury’s Rameka Poihipi on the bench.
"If I’m [training] inhibited, I’ve probably got a pretty terrible chance of performing or getting up to their level."@AllBlacks World Cup bolter Luke Jacobson spoke to @TomVinicombe about the highs and lows of 2019. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #AllBlackshttps://t.co/dxe3GZe4P9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 12, 2020
The Hamilton Boys product was a late signing for the Chiefs, taking the place that had ostensibly been saved for Australia’s James O’Connor. While Poihipi was a first five during his younger years, 22-year-old has settled into a midfield role as of late.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have also named a settled team, with the only changes being Scott Scrafton, Devan Flanders and Salesi Rayasi coming in for Isaia Walker-Leawere, Ardie Savea and Julian Savea, respectively.
A bonus-point win on Friday could secure the Chiefs a spot in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final – but they’ve not recorded such a result since their mauling of the Waratahs in Wollongong last March.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber, Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa’i, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Oliver Norris, Sione Mafileo, Samipeni Finau, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Rameka Poihipi, Chase Tiatia.
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