Injuries no concern as Chiefs name side for pre-season clash with Moana Pasifika
McMillan has named a 33-man squad for the pre-season fixture which will be broadcast on Sky Sport in New Zealand, including two separate XVs who will be spearheaded by Bryn Gatland and Josh Ioane in the No 10 jerseys.
The battle to start at first five in the Chiefs’ opening match of the Super Rugby Pacific season against the Highlanders will come down to which of the two pivots perform bests over the coming two pre-season games, with another option in the form of Kaleb Trask out of action for the early stages of the season after suffering a minor injury at an internal hit-out last week.
All of the Chiefs’ fit players bar their 10 All Blacks will feature in Friday’s clash, which will double as Moana Pasifika’s first-ever game as a Super Rugby franchise.
That means the likes of Samisoni Taukei’aho, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Quinn Tupaea and Anton Lienert-Brown won’t see any action for another week after only returning to the squad full-time on Thursday.
The starting team boasts a number of Super Rugby regulars as well as a smattering of wider training squad members.
In the front row, Ollie Norris and Sione Mafileo will pack down alongside former Hurricanes, Blues and Sunwolves hooker Leni Apisai while Northland’s Liam Hallam-Eames gets a run at lock, partnering Laghlan McWhannell.
Two Hamilton Boys High products will combine in the halves with 20-year-old Cortez Ratima teaming up with 26-year-old Bryn Gatland.
Canterbury’s Rameka Poihipi and Bay of Plenty’s Lalomilo Lalomilo have been named as the starting midfield while Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson and fullback Rivez Reihana form a strong back three.
A shadow XV has also been named for the second half of the 90-minute fixture, with the likes of regular Chiefs Bradley Slater, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Xavier Roe, Chase Tiatia, Alex Nankivell and Jonah Lowe all set to feature, as well as new arrivals Ioane and Emoni Narawa.
“We’ve obviously been working hard on a couple of areas of our game on both sides of the ball so we want to see some evidence of things we’ve been trying at training come to fruition in the game,” McMillan said on Thursday. “But also it’d be quite nice to get exposed in a few areas so that we just understand that we’re far from the finished product. [It’s] better to find a little bit more information out about yourself early than in a couple of weeks time.
“[We’re looking for] just a lot of intent, sort of something that the boys can control, go out there with a good mindset and understand that we’re gonna be playing a team that probably wants to have a memorable first performance and on top of them wanting to do well, plenty of motivation to want to put on a good performance knowing that it’s effectively becoming a charity match too for what happened in Tonga.”
McMillan telegraphed last week that loose forward Mitch Brown and prop Rueben O’Neil wouldn’t feature against Moana Pasifika, with the former on the mend from surgery and the latter ruled out for the season, continuing his horror run of bad luck in the injury department.
The other omissions from this Friday’s fixture are Trask, props Atunaisa Moli and Aidan Ross, loose forward Simon Parker and utility back Gideon Wrampling. McMillan suggested that it wouldn’t be long before that group are back on the playing field, however.
“All of them have been training with us,” he said. “Kaleb’s only just picked up an injury out of a sort of internal trial that we had last week that might keep him out for a couple of weeks.
“Gideon had surgery at the end of the year so he’s returning to training and should be back in the first couple of weeks.
“Atu’s taken a full part in training. We’ve just sort of de-loaded him for this week but he’ll play next week. And again, that’s just mindful of the history that he’s had, we don’t want to overload him too early.
“And the other one, Simon Parker, he’s had a bit of a wretched run of injuries. He’s got a little niggly shoulder so again we’ve just taken a conservative route with him.
“None of them have sort of got anything that’s gonna keep them out for any length of time. It’s mostly around just not needing to push them this early in the season.”
Friday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm from Mt Smart Stadium but will be played without a crowd due to New Zealand’s current Covid restrictions.
Chiefs (first half): Rivez Reihana, Shaun Stevenson, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Rameka Poihipi, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Cortez Ratima, Sam McNamara, Mitch Jacobson, Samipeni Finau, Laghlan McWhannell, Liam Hallam-Eames, Sione Mafileo, Leni Apisai, Ollie Norris.
Chiefs (second half): Emoni Narawa, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Alex Nankivell, Chase Tiatia, Jonah Lowe, Josh Ioane, Xavier Roe, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Tom Florence, Hamish Dalzell, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, George Dyer, Bradley Slater, Jarred Proffit.