Cruden benched for injury-hit Chiefs

Chiefs coach Warren Gatland has backed 21-year-old Kaleb Trask to start ahead of Aaron Cruden in their Vodacom Super Rugby Aotearoa opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Chiefs will be without captain Sam Cane because of a back strain with scrumhalf Brad Weber leading the team in Saturday’s first-ever Aotearoa fixture.

Props Atu Moli – who has been ruled out for the season – and Angus Ta’avao will also miss the fixture as will Nathan Harris (shoulder), Michael Allardice (shoulder), Mitch Karpik (back), Lachlan McWhannell (shoulder) and Sam McNicol (ankle).

Gatland has surprisingly opted to name 50-Test player Cruden on the bench while thrusting Trask – who has just five Super Rugby appearances – into the starting lineup.

It was a tactic utilised to good effect against the Blues earlier this year as Cruden came on after half time and helped the Chiefs overturn a 14-point deficit to snatch a 37-29 win.

‘Cruden is 100% fit but that just gives us a great chance to start Kaleb,’ Gatland said. ‘He’s been training for the whole time, and then we have got the experience of Aaron coming off the bench.’

Meanwhile, flank Lachlan Boshier will play his 50th game for the Chiefs and lock Tupou Vaa’i will start on debut.

Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber (c), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Dylan Nel, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Etene Nanai-Seturo.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images