Utility back Damian McKenzie has been named to start in the Chiefs’ final warm-up of the year – but not in his usual fullback position.

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This Saturday, the Chiefs will square off against the Crusaders and Blues, playing 40 minutes against both sides. McKenzie has been tasked with running the cutter from first five in the absence of young playmaker Kaleb Trask.

McKenzie last wore the No 10 jersey in the fourth round of the 2019 Super Rugby competition. Then-coach Colin Cooper instilled McKenzie as his favoured playmaker but a run of poor results saw the utility revert back to his favoured fullback role.

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Trask, Bryn Gatland and Rivez Reihana were the three men named as first five options when the Chiefs revealed their squad late last year. Gatland will play at No 10 in the first half of Saturday’s match while Reihana will slot in at fullback. Trask, meanwhile, appears to be nursing an injury and won’t feature in the match.

The game will mark the first appearance of the Chiefs’ All Blacks contingent for 2021.

Captain Sam Cane will run out in the No 7 jersey against the Crusaders while Brad Weber, McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown will combine in the final ‘half’ of the three-half match.

Former All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris is also set to play his first game of professional rugby since 2019, having missed the entirety of 2020 due to a fractured ankle suffered during the previous season’s Mitre 10 Cup. Harris will feature on the bench in both halves.

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The Chiefs were set to name Cane’s co-captain earlier in the week but the plans were dashed due to the sudden re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community.

The Waikato-based side, who were unable to pick up a win in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, have an extra week to prepare for this year’s competition thanks to having the bye in the opening round.

They’ll kick their year off in two weeks’ time, against the Highlanders in Hamilton. Saturday’s match kicks off at 12:05pm NZT and will be broadcast live in New Zealand on SKY Sports.

Chiefs vs Crusaders

1. Aidan Ross
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho
3. Sione Mafileo
4. Tupou Vaa’i
5. Stan van den Hoven
6. Simon Parker
7. Sam Cane
8. Kaylum Boshier
9. Xavier Roe
10. Bryn Gatland
11. Jonah Lowe
12. Alex Nankivell
13. Sean Wainui
14. Shaun Stevenson
15. Rivez Reihana

Reserves:

Nathan Harris
Sekope Lopeti Moli
Ollie Norris
Joe Apikotoa
Viliami Taulani
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
Quinn Tupaea
Gideon Wrampling
Lisati Milo-Harris

Chiefs vs Blues

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1. Reuben O’Neill
2. Bradley Slater
3. Joshua Iosefa -Scott
4. Naitoa Ah Kuoi
5. Josh Lord
6. Samipeni Finau
7. Mitchell Karpik
8. Luke Jacobson
9. Brad Weber
10. Damian McKenzie
11. Etene Nanai-Seturo
12. Rameka Poihipi
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
14. Bailyn Sullivan
15. Chase Tiatia

Reserves:

Sekope Lopeti-Moli
Nathan Harris
Ollie Norris
Joe Apikotoa
Viliami Taulani
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
Quinn Tupaea
Gideon Wrampling
Lisati Milo-Harris

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