Warren Gatland has made five changes to his Chiefs side as they go in search of a maiden Super Rugby Aotearoa win when they host the Highlanders in Hamilton on Sunday.
The Chiefs have lost their opening four games of the tournament and are languishing at the foot of the standings with just three log points.
This prompted Gatland to make extensive personnel to the match 23, including the omission of Aaron Cruden at flyhalf in favour of rookie Kaleb Trask.
Staying in the backline, Anton Lienert-Brown returns at outside centre after sitting out the Chiefs’ previous game due to a concussion. He is joined by Alex Nankivell in midfield, where they replace Tumua Manu and Quinn Tupaea.
On the left wing, Etene Nanai-Seturo makes way for Solomon Alaimalo.
There’s just one change in the pack, with Tupou Vaa’i coming into the second row in place of Naitoa Ah Kuoi.
Gatland says he expects another close contest in this return fixture, following the Highlanders’ riveting 28-27 win against the Chiefs in the competition opener.
‘It was a tightly contested battle when we faced the Highlanders in the first Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Dunedin. They have a number of threats across the park,’ Gatland said.
‘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 turnovers, 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.’
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 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.
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