Andrew Horrell has been switched back to centre for his second appearance there in his life and Ben Afeaki brought back to the bench in the two most significant changes to the Chiefs team to play the Crusaders in Friday night’s Super Rugby semifinal.
It is the same backline that played the Crusaders three weeks ago at Waikato Stadium when the home side’s set-piece malfunctioned to such an extent that the backs got few attacking chances against tight defence.
That was the first game in which Horrell, who was selected for his first season of Super Rugby as a backup first and second five-eighth and has played a number of games at fullback, had ever played at centre.
He went back to fullback for the final regular season game against the Hurricanes in Wellington with Robbie Robinson shifting to the wing but the Chiefs believe this is the best option for them in the semifinal with the pace of Robinson at fullback and Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Tim Nanai-Williams getting the wing spots.
That means Jackson Willison, who played at centre against the Hurricanes and has been the regular replacement for Richard Kahui since he was invalided out of the season with a shoulder dislocation suffered against the Reds on May 13, goes back to the bench along with winger Lelia Masaga.
Afeaki comes back into the equation after a nightmare season that saw him break his forearm in the opening game back in February and miss 13 weeks before returning for the Bulls and second Blues games only to suffer a serious concussion in the latter.
That was eight weeks ago and Afeaki only resumed full training 2 1/2 weeks ago once his concussion symptoms subsided, but head coach Dave Rennie said the 127kg prop had been “smashed” in training, was recording personal bests and had even been seriously considered to start the match.
The unlucky player because of Afeaki’s return is loosehead prop Toby Smith who misses out on the 22 this week.
Sona Taumalolo returns to the starting loosehead spot and hooker Mahonri Schwalger gets the No2 jersey this week with Hika Elliot moving back to the bench.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders have made one change from the team that beat the Bulls.
Ben Franks will replace his brother Owen in the No 3 jersey.
No 8 Kieran Read is unavailable for another week as her recovers from a rib injury suffered against the Chiefs in the penultimate regular season game two and a half weeks ago.Read is confident of being available for the final next week should the Crusaders win on Friday night.
Richie McCaw will fill in for Read at No 8 again with Matt Todd deputising for the All Blacks’ skipper at openside flanker.
Tickets are still available for the semifinal at Waikato Stadium on Friday night.
CHIEFS: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke ©, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga
CRUSADERS: Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Samuel Whitelock, George Whitelock, Matt Todd, Richie McCaw (c), Andy Ellis, Dan Carter (vc), Zac Guildford, Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock, Israel Dagg. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Owen Franks, Tom Donnelly, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Sean Maitland.