Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has named a powerful line-up to take on the Crusaders this Saturday at AMI Stadium.
The 23-man team features five Super Rugby debutants with Hiroshi Yamashita, Taleni Seu, Tom Sanders and Shaun Stevenson named to start and Latu Vaeno hoping to earn his first cap off the bench.
In the forwards, Pauliasi Manu, Rhys Marshall and Japan prop Hiroshi Yamashita will pack down in the front row with Michael Allardice and All Black Brodie Retallick at lock. The loose forward trio consists of Taleni Seu, All Black Sam Cane and Canterbury number eight Tom Sanders.
In the backs, experienced All Black half-back Tawera Kerr-Barlow gets the start, with Chiefs co-captain Aaron Cruden making his long awaited return to Super Rugby at fly-half. Taranaki teammates Charlie Ngatai and Seta Tamanivalu combine in the midfield with James Lowe and Shaun Stevenson on the wings. Damian McKenzie will start at full-back.
Coach Dave Rennie said: “It’s been a long build-up and we’re all excited that the competitions finally about to start. Our 23 is a blend of youth and experience with several players making their Super Rugby debuts. We’re really happy with the hard work and development that’s gone into the past three months.
"History tells us that Chiefs and Crusaders clashes are physical and high paced encounters and I’m sure this weekend will be no different.”
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Alarvice, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Mitchell Graham, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Maama Vaipulu, 20 Johan Bardoul, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Latu Vaeno
Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)