Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane has issued his side a warning ahead of their opening Super Rugby Aotearoa fixture of the season.
On Friday night, the Chiefs will host the Highlanders in Hamilton. In last year’s competition, the Highlanders managed to snaffle two last-minute victories over their rivals and Cane will be desperate for his charges to right the wrongs of 2020.
The season as a whole was somewhat of a write-off, with the Chiefs failing to secure a victory in any of their eight matches.
Interim coach Clayton McMillan has made some surprising selections for this week’s game, handing a debut to injury replacement Samipeni Finau in the back row. Sean Wainui has also been named in the midfield, as opposed to his customary spot on the wing.
Perhaps the biggest selection surprise, however, comes in the Highlanders ranks. Tony Brown, who has succeeded Aaron Mauger as head coach, has handed a massive opportunity to young halfback Folau Fakatava, naming him ahead of All Black Aaron Smith.
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Fakatava rode the pine last week but added impetus upon his introduction in the 58th minute.
Smith, who recently re-signed with the Highlanders and New Zealand Rugby, will instead enter Friday’s game from the bench – and will no doubt quickly up the pace of the match.
Speaking on Smith’s ‘demotion’, Cane is wary of perhaps the best one-two halfback punch in the competition.
“I’m sure [Smith] could have played big minutes again, but they’ve also got a guy in Folau Fakatava who is pretty exciting and he’s come on massively in the last few years,” he said. “He’s done his apprenticeship. They brought him on with about 25 minutes to go last week and he made an impact.
“Like any good team, if you’ve got a two-punch combo in one of those key positions you can use it to real effect.”
The Chiefs will unleash a solid combo of their own, however, with co-captain Brad Weber named in the No 9 jersey. Potential debutant Xavier Roe will likely join the fray late in the game and after some excellent performances for Waikato in last season’s provincial competition, the head-to-head between he and Smith is one worth savouring.
Friday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT and RugbyPass subscribers with a Super Rugby Aotearoa season pass can live stream the match – or catch the game on-demand.
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