Injuries are no stranger to the Chiefs over the years in Investec Super Rugby but they go into the season opener against the Highlanders on Friday vulnerable in key areas, especially at first five-eighths.
Match Details: Chiefs v Highlanders, FMG Stadium, Hamilton, February 15, 2019, 7.35pm
Won: Chiefs 18, Highlanders 13
Last time: Highlanders 22-45 Chiefs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, June 30, 2018
Referee: Glen Jackson
The Chiefs needed to demonstrate the willingness of their defence in holding out a strong finishing Reds team in Brisbane at the weekend but in spite of their youth the side achieved that and have set a good template for the season ahead. The Highlanders made the most of their chance to beat the Waratahs in their pre-season game in Alexandra but went down late to the Crusaders at Southbridge last weekend. However, with returning All Blacks in their side they will be a more cohesive unit.
SURPRISE CALL FOR LEGER
A surprise in the Chiefs line-up is the inclusion of former New Zealand Under-20s, and former Blues, player Orbyn Leger at first five-eighths. He has played much of his rugby at second five-eighths and is required to take on the unfamiliar role as a result of injuries already being experienced by the side. All Black Damian McKenzie has suffered an ankle injury, Tiaan Falcon ruptured his Achilles tendon and is out for the year. Marty McKenzie has a hip injury while Jack Debreczeni has an abdominal strain. Falcon’s replacement Stephen Donald has been listed in the substitutes. Anton Lienert-Brown will be at second five-eighths with Tumua Manu at centre. All Blacks Sevens star Etene Nanai-Seturo will be on the left wing.
IOANE STEPS UP
The Highlanders will not be as raw in experience as the Chiefs but they will have some less known players in the starting XV. First five-eighths Josh Ioane had some moments in last year’s campaign as understudy to Lima Sopoaga and a full season with Otago in Mitre 10 Cup play. Up front Ayden Johnstone will face a tough task at prop against a hardened Chiefs front row. However, the Highlanders have a lively looking backline with space found on the wing for Matt Faddes while Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Rob Thompson are paired in the midfield. Jackson Hemopo, James Lentjes and Luke Whitelock shape as a strong loose forward combination to battle it out with the Chiefs.
The Highlanders made the highest numbers of tackles per match last season (143) but their worst tackle success rate in any game was in their last match against the Chiefs (74 percent)
The Chiefs have won three consecutive games against the Highlanders, but the southerners can say they have won two of their last three visits to FMG Stadium.
Chiefs: 1.Atu Moli, 2.Nathan Harris, 3.Angus Ta’avao, 4.Brodie Retallick (captain), 5.Michael Allardice, 6.Mitchell Brown, 7.Lachlan Boshier, 8.Tyler Ardron, 9.Brad Weber, 10.Orbyn Leger, 11.Etene Nanai-Seturo, 12.Anton Lienert-Brown, 13.Tumua Manu, 14.Bailyn Sullivan, 15.Shaun Stevenson.
Substitutes: 16.Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17.Aidan Ross, 18.Nepo Laulala, 19.Taleni Seu, 20.Jesse Parete, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22.Stephen Donald, 23.Ataata Moeakiola.
Highlanders: 1.Ayden Johnstone, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Pari Pari Parkinson, 5.Josh Dickson, 6.Jackson Hemopo, 7.James Lentjes, 8. Luke Whitelock, 9.Kayne Hammington, 10.Josh Ioane, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Matt Faddes, 15.Ben Smith.
Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon, 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Siate Tokolahi, 19.Shannon Frizell, 20.Dillon Hunt, 21.Aaron Smith, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.Patelesio Tomkinson.