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Super Rugby Aotearoa: Aaron Cruden demoted to bench as Chiefs name side to face Highlanders

By Online Editors

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Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has made a raft of changes to his twenty-three for his side’s clash against the Highlanders on Sunday.


In the forwards, Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater and Nepo Laulala pack down a formidable front row.

With lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi side-lined with concussion, Tupou Vaa’i shifts into the starting XV combining with Mitchell Brown.

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Mark Hammett talks to media

The impressive loose forward combination of Lachlan Boshier and Chiefs captain Sam Cane remains the status quo alongside Pita Gus Sowakula completing the forward pack at No. 8.

A reshuffled backline will see halfback Brad Weber combine with first-five eighth Kaleb Trask, with an experienced halves combination in Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Aaron Cruden named on the bench.

Alex Nankivell earns his first start of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition at second five-eighth. He will be joined by Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield, who returns from concussion.

An electrifying back three consists of Solomon Alaimalo on the left wing, Sean Wainui on the right wing and Damian McKenzie slotting into fullback.


In the reserves, an abundance of experience is featured. Samisoni Taukei’aho, Reuben O’Neill and Ross Geldenhuys round off a powerful replacement front row.

Experienced Adam Thomson and Mitchell Karpik provide loose forward cover. Rookie Quinn Tupaea completes the line-up in jersey twenty-three.

Gatland said the Gallagher Chiefs were refreshed from their break and were eager to return to Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa at home.

“The team have had an enjoyable break and have returned refreshed and hungry to earn a win this Sunday. We have enjoyed been out and about in the community this week, the team have been fundraising for our community partner Variety – The Children’s Charity for their Warm Hearts Winter Appeal in a number of the malls in Hamilton and we have had the pleasure of our members attending training.”


Gatland said Sunday afternoon’s game will be a challenging encounter for fans to watch.

“It was a tightly contested battle when we faced the Highlanders in the first Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Dunedin. They have a number of threats across the park, they can attack, defend and have been known to have an accurate kicker in the pocket.

“We need to be prepared to defend that and bide our time when we are given the opportunity. We then need to apply pressure, force a turnover, attack and execute accordingly.

“This Sunday is about us starting better and continuing to finish strongly so we secure a win at home that our fans deserve to see.”

Gallagher Chiefs:
1. Aidan Ross (35)
2. Bradley Slater (11)
3. Nepo Laulala (37)
4. Tupou Vaa’i (3)
5. Mitchell Brown (41)
6. Lachlan Boshier (53)
7. Sam Cane (118) ©
8. Pita Gus Sowakula (24)
9. Brad Weber (81)
10. Kaleb Trask (5)
11. Solomon Alaimalo (45)
12. Alex Nankivell (28)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (77)
14. Sean Wainui (34)
15. Damian McKenzie (80)

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho (32)
17. Reuben O’Neill (7)
18. Ross Geldenhuys (9)
19. Adam Thomson (3)
20. Mitchell Karpik (26)
21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (37)
22. Aaron Cruden (98)
23. Quinn Tupaea (8)

– Chiefs Rugby

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: Aaron Cruden demoted to bench as Chiefs name side to face Highlanders