On the back of the first victory of their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, coach Clayton McMillan has kept changes to a minimum for the Chiefs’ clash with the Blues in Hamilton on Saturday.
Injuries have forced McMillan’s hand in some positions, with replacement player Samipeni Finau coming into the starting XV in place of All Black Tupou Vaa’i, who suffered a head knock in last weekend’s victory over the Hurricanes and has been ruled out of Saturday’s match due to concussion.
Finau made his Super Rugby debut in Round 1 of this year’s competition but was asked to wear the No 6 jersey on that occasion. The three-cap utility forward will partner Naitoa Ah Kuoi in the second row and McMillan will be hopeful the combo can work as effectively as they did in the latter stages of last week’s win.
The only other changes to the starting side see both of last weekend’s wings drop out of the squad, with Etene Nanai-Seturo managing a hamstring injury and Jonah Lowe unavailable through illness.
Their absences pave the way for Sean Wainui and Shaun Stevenson to make their returns to the starting team.
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Wainui will celebrate his 50th Super Rugby appearance, having kicked off his career with the Crusaders in 2016 before shifting north two years later.
McMillan, who has previously coached Wainui with the Maori All Blacks, had some special words for the milestone man at the team announcement.
“Sean is a talented player and is a valued member of the Chiefs whanau,” he said. “It’s an achievement to clock up 50 Super games and we look forward to seeing his game continue to grow.”
Despite the various injury-enforced changes, there’s some good news for Chiefs supporters too, with Pita Gus Sowakula named on the bench for what will be his first appearance of the year.
Sowakula was the Chiefs’ key metre-eater last year and the big Fijian loose forward will be expected to carry a heavy workload on attack in the second half of Saturday’s game.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 24, 2021
“The Blues are a quality team. They will be disappointed with aspects of their game from the weekend and will be determined to get back on track against us,” McMillan said of the upcoming Battle of the Bombays. “We are prepared for the backlash and will be looking to build on last week’s performance.
“We have lost a couple of players to injury and sickness this week, but that provides others with the opportunity to put their hand up. We do welcome back Pita Gus Sowakula from injury, and it will be exciting to see the impact he has off the bench.”
The Blues suffered their first defeat of the year against the Crusaders last Sunday while the Chiefs’ win over the Hurricanes marked their first victory in 12 matches.
A win for the home side would put them back in the frame for a potential spot in the finals – although we’re still less than halfway through the competition.
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT and will be broadcast live and on-demand on RugbyPass for subscribers who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa season pass.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Sean Wainui, Kaleb Trask, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane, Mitchell Brown, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Samipeni Finau, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Oliver Norris, Reuben O’Neill, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Alex Nankivell, Chase Tiatia.
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