Luke Jacobson returns for Chiefs while top performers from Blues battle rewarded with grand final berths
The Chiefs coaches have stuck to their word, rewarding two of the most impressive performers in last weekend’s dead-rubber loss to the Blues with places in the matchday 23 for the Super Rugby Aotearoa grand final against the Crusaders.
Clayton McMillan made wholesale changes to the team ahead of the match with the Blues, swapping thirteen players out from the starting side and also refreshing the bench.
While there was nothing on the line for the team as whole – with their berth in the final already wrapped up – coach Neil Barnes suggested in the lead-up to the match that there were still spots on the line for the final game of the season.
So although the vast majority of the side who scored a last-minute win over the Hurricanes in Hamilton two weeks ago has been reinstated – there are a few twists in the selection.
The main benefactor is Tongan international Zane Kapeli, who was brimming with energy and power against the Blues and put in one particularly notable hit on first five Otere Black.
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Kapeli will play from the bench on Saturday but his fellow loosie Pita Gus Sowakula has also prospered from his dominant performance in the loss.
Sowakula had a slow kick-off to the season due to injury, only making his first start in the recent Hurricanes match after incumbent Luke Jacobson was ruled out with concussion.
Jacobson is back for the final and will again line up at No 8, but Sowakula has been retained in the starting team, shifting to the blindside flank.
That forces Mitch Brown into the second row, with Naitoa Ah Kuoi slotting in on the bench.
"We always used to take things to the edge against them – and they didn’t like the way we used to do things."
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) May 5, 2021
There’s a settled look to the squad as a whole with Lachlan Boshier the only starter to have featured in fewer than five of the Chiefs’ eight matches played in 2021.
Kapeli and Poihipi are in a similar boat on the bench.
While the Crusaders have never lost a playoff match at home, winning 24 on the trot, the Chiefs carry some solid form into the encounter and won the last game between the two sides.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT from Christchurch.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula, Mitchell Brown, Tupou Vaa’i, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Oliver Norris, Sione Mafileo, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Zane Kapeli, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Rameka Poihipi, Chase Tiatia.
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