Chiefs Make Several Changes For Highlanders


Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland has made several changes to face the Highlanders on Sunday. Fresh off a bye the Chiefs will be a dangerous outfit when they host the Highlanders in Hamilton on Sunday 05:35 SA time. The Chiefs lost 27-28 against the Highlanders in the opening round of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

In the forwards, Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater and Nepo Laulala pack down a formidable front row. With lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi side-lined with a concussion, Tupou Vaa’i shifts into the starting fifteen combining with Mitchell Brown. The impressive loose forward combination of Lachlan Boshier and Gallagher Chiefs Captain Sam Cane remains the status quo alongside Pita Gus Sowakula completing the forward pack at number eight.

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 Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition at second five-eighth. Nankivell will be joined by Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield who returns from a concussion. An electrifying back three consists of Solomon Alaimalo on the left-wing, Sean Wainui on the right-wing and Damian McKenzie slotting into the 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'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.”

The Gallagher Chiefs are 0-and-four in the competition and are out of title contention, but that certainly hasn’t hampered their determination and passion to win.

Gallagher Chiefs attack coach Roger Randle said their winless record to date is only providing motivation for the players.

“I think we are fortunate with the senior players we have with Aaron Cruden, Anton Lienert-Brown and Sam [Cane]. The guys love this team, there’s an immense passion for this team and so they are really good. They have come in and everybody is enthused.

“But it’s genuine. It’s not candyfloss, yahooing, it’s actually genuine care and love and knowing that we can turn this around if we make a couple of adjustments.”

Lienert-Brown is back in contention for selection, having missed the game against the Hurricanes with a concussion and Mitchell Karpik is also available. Young lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi is recovering well from a nasty head knock against the Hurricanes, and while he won’t play this weekend, Randle said he’s got his cheeky humour going again and is doing well.

The Gallagher Chiefs have only scored four tries and a penalty try in four games of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa. The low numbers don’t reflect the Gallagher Chiefs style, but Randle admits it’s happening to other teams in the competition as well.

“We’ve had a couple of wet games and I think the Crusaders, who have pretty good attack didn’t score until the 56th minute last week, when someone made an error on the edge. The Highlanders scored off a lineout drive last week, and I think Tony Brown goes alright as an attack coach.

“We all get together and have a beer afterwards and defence coaches are licking their lips cause it’s July, she’s pretty wet and there’s a lot of defenders on the body at the moment. So that’s the challenges for us as attack coaches and how we harness that, and we can find ways of breaking that down.”

The Highlanders confirmed on Wednesday that Josh Ioane is back training and available for selection this weekend. Randle is guessing Bryn Gatland will be in the mix as well.

“Hopefully, he doesn’t come off the bench and do what he did last time.”

Chiefs: 1. Aidan Ross, 2. Bradley Slater, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Tupou Vaa’i, 5. Mitchell Brown, 6. Lachlan Boshier, 7. Sam Cane (C), 8. Pita Gus Sowakula, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Kaleb Trask, 11. Solomon Alaimalo, 12. Alex Nankivell, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Sean Wainui, 15. Damian McKenzie. Replacements: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. Reuben O’Neill, 18. Ross Geldenhuys, 19. Adam Thomson, 20. Mitchell Karpik, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Aaron Cruden, 23. Quinn Tupaea.