McKenzie to play pivotal role for Chiefs
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Utility back Damian McKenzie has been named to start in the Chiefs’ final warm-up of the year.
However, it will be not in his usual fullback position.
This Saturday, the Chiefs will square off against the Crusaders and Blues, playing 40 minutes against both sides.
McKenzie has been tasked with running the cutter from flyhalf in the absence of young playmaker Kaleb Trask.
McKenzie last wore the No.10 jersey in the fourth round of the 2019 Super Rugby competition.
Then-coach Colin Cooper instilled McKenzie as his favoured playmaker, but a run of poor results saw the utility revert back to his favoured fullback role.
Trask, Bryn Gatland and Rivez Reihana were the three men named as flyhalf options when the Chiefs revealed their squad late last year.
Gatland will play at No 10 in the first half of Saturday’s match while Reihana will slot in at fullback. Trask, meanwhile, appears to be nursing an injury and won’t feature in the match.
The game will mark the first appearance of the Chiefs’ All Blacks contingent for 2021.
The Chiefs have just two weeks until their first official Super Rugby fixture against the Highlanders in Hamilton on Saturday, March 5
Last week’s pre-season fixture in Upper Hutt resulted in the Chiefs winning both halves against the Hurricanes and Blues.
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan is keen to go up a notch this Saturday.
“While we enjoyed a couple of wins in Upper Hutt, the margins between winning and losing are small,”McMilland said.
“We were lucky to be on the right side of a few key moments last week and will need to take a step forward in our accuracy this Saturday.
“Our physical intent was great, but that will need to go up a notch to be truly competitive against quality opposition like the Blues and Crusaders.
“I have enjoyed the re-integration of our All Blacks over the last few weeks and am looking forward to the influence they will have in our team this weekend.”
Captain Sam Cane will run out in the No.7 jersey against the Crusaders, while Brad Weber, McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown will combine in the final ‘half’ of the three-half match.
All Black hooker Nathan Harris is also set to play his first game of professional rugby since 2019, having missed the entirety of 2020 due to a fractured ankle suffered during the previous season’s NPC season.
Harris will feature on the bench in both halves.
The Chiefs were set to name Cane’s co-captain earlier in the week but the plans were dashed due to the sudden re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community.
The Hamilton-based side, who were unable to pick up a win in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, have an extra week to prepare for this year’s competition thanks to having the bye in the opening round.
Versus Crusaders: 15 Rivez Reihana, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Jonah Lowe, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Xavier Roe, 8 Kaylum Boshier, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Simon Parker, 5 Stan van den Hoven, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements – from: Nathan Harris, Sekope Lopeti Moli, Ollie Norris, Joe Apikotoa, Viliami Taulani, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling, Lisati Milo-Harris.
Versus Blues: 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Bailyn Sullivan, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Josh Lord, 4 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 3 Joshua Iosefa -Scott, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Reuben O’Neill.
Replacements – from: Sekope Lopeti-Moli, Nathan Harris, Ollie Norris, Joe Apikotoa, Viliami Taulani, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling, Lisati Milo-Harris.
Date: Saturday, February 20
Venue: Hautapu Sports, Cambridge
Kick-off: First match gets underway at 12.00 (23.00, Friday, February 19 GMT)
By Tom Vinicombe, RugbyPass