Sam Cane will make his first appearance in Super Rugby Aotearoa having fully recovered from a back injury that kept him out of the Chiefs’ opening two losses of the competition.

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Cane is just one of four changes that head coach Gatland has made to the starting team for their do-or-die match with the Crusaders.

In the forwards, Mitchell Brown returns from injury to take his spot in the second-row with 20-year-old Tupou Vaa’i unavailable due to illness while Bradley Slater gets his third start of the year at hooker.

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Auckland Blues winger Caleb Clarke talks about being a part of the back to back wins his team have enjoyed to begin Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Further out, Solomon Alaimalo returns on the left wing with Shaun Stevenson dropping out the squad altogether and centre Tumua Manu joining the bench.

Mitch Karpik has also recovered from a back injury to line up in the reserves.

Gatland said the team need to deliver an improved performance.

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“We were disappointed with our performance against the Blues on Saturday and we know we are better than that. We are under no illusion that this weekend will be another challenging game, the Crusaders are a sharp team and can quickly punish teams for their mistakes. We need to be alert when we are defending and sharp on attack to allow us to capitalise on any opportunities presented to us.”

Gatland welcomes the return of several key forwards.

“It is great to have the likes of Sam Cane, Mitchell Brown and Mitchell Karpik returning from injury. We know their experience and skillset will be invaluable,” finished Gatland.

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Solomon Alaimalo, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sean Wainui, Aaron Cruden, Brad Weber, Pita Gus Sowakula, Sam Cane (c), Lachlan Boshier, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa’i, Nepo Laulala, Bradley Slater, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Reuben O’Neill, Ross Geldenhuys, Adam Thomson, Mitch Karpik, Lisati Milo-Harris, Kaleb Trask, Tumua Manu.

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