The Chiefs will be at home at the Waikato Stadium for the first time in the Super Rugby Aotearoa season when they host the Blues on Saturday. Well, there’s only been one round of fixtures to date, and it was an agonising trip for the Chiefs. They suffered an agonising one-point loss away to the Highlanders.
This weekend, Shaun Stevenson will run out on the right wing for his 50th Chiefs cap, though, backed by a familiar squad of faces.
Lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi will move from the bench into the starting fifteen in jersey number five to combine with last week’s debutant Tupou Vaa’i, in the only changes to the Chiefs forward pack.
All Blacks Halfback Brad Weber will again captain the side in the absence of Chiefs and All Blacks Captain Sam Cane. Weber will combine with experienced first five-eighth Aaron Cruden at ten in the only change from last week’s starting backline, with Bay of Plenty’s Kaleb Trask providing cover on the bench.
Reinforcements of prop Reuben O’Neill, loose forward veteran Adam Thomson, rookie Lisati Milo-Harris and electrifying back Solomon Alaimalo will complete an exciting twenty-three.
Coach Warren Gatland said the team were eager to return to Waikato and deliver a much improved performance for their fans.
“Last week against the Highlanders we weren’t clinical enough and they capitalised on those opportunities we gave them. This week we need to be sharper and deliver a more dominant performance.
“The Blues have some great playmakers and will be a dangerous team. They performed well last week against the Hurricanes and will be hoping to back it up again.
“The guys are excited to run out to the field in front of what is expected to be a near capacity crowd. It is now up to us to deliver for them and show our thanks for their support,” said Gatland.
Meanwhile, for the Blues, All Black loose forwards Dalton Papalii and Akira Ioane return to the starting XV – the only changes from the 30-20 win over the Hurricanes in the opening round of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
Chiefs vs Blues prediction: Head-to-head and teams
Average score: Chiefs 26-22 Blues
Average tries*: Chiefs 3-2 Blues
*In Super Rugby matches vs each other.
Prediction: Chiefs 29-24 Blues
Teams: Chiefs vs Blues
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Dylan Nel, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Solomon Alaimal
Blues: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Compiled by Antoinette Muller.