The Chiefs return home to FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday 8 February following their 37-29 victory over the Blues in their opening match of the season. Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland has named his side to challenge the defending champions the Crusaders.
Following an 80-minute performance in the season opener, prop Aidan Ross will again start at loosehead alongside hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho. Joining the pair will be All Black prop Atu Moli in the only change to the forward pack, replacing Nepo Laulala who has been side-lined with a knee injury. The locking combination of Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown alongside loose forwards Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik remain unchanged as does Chiefs captain Sam Cane at number eight.
In the backs, halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will combine with the experienced Aaron Cruden who will don the number ten jersey, with his understudy Kaleb Trask securing a spot on the bench in jersey 22. All Black Anton Lienert-Brown will join Quinn Tupaea starting in the midfield at 12 and 13 respectively, with Alex Nankivell covering on the bench in jersey 23. The only other change to the talented backline will see the eagerly anticipated return of All Black Damian McKenzie at fullback.
Chiefs hooker Bradley Slater will be joined by experienced Bay of Plenty prop in Ross Geldenhuys who will debut for the Chiefs. Fellow debutant Waikato prop Ollie Norris will look to come off the bench for his Investec Super Rugby debut. Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Pita Gus Sowakula will provide loose forward cover once again in addition to All Black Brad Weber covering Tahuriorangi at halfback.
Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing the Chiefs challenge the defending title holders.
“Last week we achieved the desired result on the score board, but there were plenty of learnings for the group. This week we need to take those learnings an implement them, ensuring we are patient with ball in hand and a nuisance when we are defending. The Crusaders are a formidable pack and set a great challenge for us. The only way we are going to continue to improve is by playing the best, so this will be a great contest for us and one we are preparing well for.”
Gatland continued: “It is great that we are celebrating our members this weekend. They are the core of our loyal fan base. We know their support will be huge for the team this weekend and we are looking forward to hearing them cheer us on.”
Saturday’s fixture is proudly brought to you by Splice Construction, who contributed $3,896 of the $5,269 raised for the Australian bushfire relief fund following the Gallagher Chiefs pre-season match in Waihi.
1. Aidan Ross (26)
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (22)
3. Atu Moli (39)
4. Tyler Ardron (27)
5. Mitchell Brown (34)
6. Lachlan Boshier (45)
7. Mitchell Karpik (21)
8. Sam Cane (112) ©
9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (33)
10. Aaron Cruden (90)
11. Solomon Alaimalo (39)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (70)
13. Quinn Tupaea (1)
14. Sean Wainui (27)
15. Damian McKenzie (72)
16. Bradley Slater (3)
17. Ross Geldenhuys*
18. Ollie Norris**
19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi (1)
20. Pita Gus Sowakula (16)
21. Brad Weber (73)
22. Kaleb Trask (1)
23. Alex Nankivell (23)
() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut
**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut
Unavailable for selection:
Angus Ta’avao (knee), Laghlan McWhannell (knee), Luke Jacobson, Nathan Harris (shoulder), Nepo Laulala (knee), Reuben O’Neill (ankle), Ryan Coxon (ankle) and Tumua Manu (shoulder).