All Blacks flanker Sam Cane will start his first game in seven months after breaking his neck while playing against South Africa last October, but he returns to the Chiefs’ starting XV in the unfamiliar position of blindside flanker.
The move comes as part of a forward pack reshuffle by head coach Colin Cooper after Mitchell Brown sustained a knee injury against the Blues, while prop Angus Ta’avao is on All Blacks leave.
As a result, Ta’avao’s international teammate Nepo Laulala will start at tighthead, with Sosefo Kautai joining the bench as cover.
Canadian international Tyler Ardron moves from No. 8 to combine with Jesse Parete in the second row, with Pita Gus Sowakula taking the vacant spot at the back of the scrum.
Lachlan Boshier starts at openside flanker to accompany Cane and Sowakula in a new-look loose forward trio which sees Mitchell Karpik demoted to the bench.
Cane came off the bench for the Chiefs during their 23-8 defeat at the hands of the Blues in Auckland last week which, barring a miracle run of results, effectively rules them out of play-offs contention.
Although the result was a significant loss for the Chiefs in the overall scheme of their season, the return of the Cane is a big win for not only the Hamilton franchise and the All Blacks, but also for the the 27-year-old himself, whose career was put in jeopardy after sustaining the injury.
While starting in the No. 6 jersey, his return to the starting side caps off what has been a remarkable return for the 60-test captain.
Meanwhile, the solitary backline change for the Chiefs sees Alex Nankivell starting at second-five in place of Anton Lienert-Brown, who joins Ta’avao on All Blacks leave.
On the reserves bench, Counties Manukau lock Daymon Leasuasu is set to make his Super Rugby debut after replacing last week’s debutant Mitch Jacobson, while utility back Jack Debreczeni returns to the fold from injury alongside Sean Wainui.
Liam Polwart is replaced on the pine by prospective All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, but loosehead prop Aidan Ross and halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi retain their positions in the reserves, with Brad Weber strengthening his lead in the battle for an All Blacks call-up with another start in the No. 9 jersey.
Chiefs: 1. Atu Moli, 2. Nathan Harris, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Jesse Parete, 5. Tyler Ardron, 6. Sam Cane, 7. Lachlan Boshier, 8. Pita Gus Sowakula, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo, 12. Alex Nankivell, 13. Tumua Manu, 14. Shaun Stevenson, 15. Solomon Alaimalo
Reserves: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. Aidan Ross, 18. Sosefo Kautai, 19. Daymon Leasuasu, 20. Mitch Karpik, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Jack Debreczeni, 23. Sean Wainui
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