The Chiefs return home refreshed after their bye week to take on the Highlanders at FMG Stadium Waikato on Sunday 19 July in round six of Super Rugby Aotearoa with both the Chiefs and Highlanders starting their All Black pivots from the bench.
Aaron Cruden makes way for Kaleb Trask in Warren Gatland's starting XV while Aaron Mauger welcomes the return of Josh Ioane via the bench.
Gatland has made further changes to his line up following the bye with Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater and Nepo Laulala packing down in the front row with lock impressive young lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi side-lined with concussion seeing Tupou Vaa’i shifts into the starting fifteen combining with Mitchell Brown.
The formible loose trio of Lachlan Boshier and Chiefs Captain Sam Cane remains the status quo alongside Pita Gus Sowakula completing the forward pack at number eight. The 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. Nankivell will be joined by Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield who also 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.
For the Highlanders, Josh Ioane returns to the match day 23 in a largely unchanged team from last Sunday’s close loss to the Hurricanes in the capital city. Ioane, who withdrew before the round one match against the Chiefs with a reaggravated groin strain the injury, will get his first taste of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“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.” - Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland
Gatland alos said Sunday’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 Investec 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.”
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)
() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
Unavailable for selection:
Angus Ta’avao (quad), Naitoa Ah Kuoi (concussion)
Season ending: Atu Moli (hips), Laghlan McWhannell (knee), Luke Jacobson (hand), Michael Allardice (shoulder), Nathan Harris (shoulder), Ryan Coxon (thumb), Sam McNicol (ankle).