Centre Robbie Fruean and halfback Augustine Pulu are notable inclusions in the Chiefs starting lineup for their Super Rugby NZ derby against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.
Powerful No 13 Fruean makes his long-awaited return to the side, while Counties-Manukau’s Pulu makes his Super Rugby comeback after a recent knee procedure. He beats out Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who missed out on any game-time for the All Blacks against England, for the No 9 jersey.
Both Fruean and Pulu have been active for their club teams leading into Friday’s match at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
All Blacks Aaron Cruden, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick all come straight back into the starting 15, with Gareth Anscombe given the nod to start at fullback.
Tevita Koloamatangi, Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams and James Lowe are the new additions to the bench.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said “This is a massive game and we have prepared really well. We realize the importance of this fixture and from here on in every match is like a play-off.”
Eighth overall and fourth in the NZ conference, the defending champions likely need to prevail in the three regular season matches they have left to reach the playoffs.
Their next match is a home encounter against the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium on Friday next week.
Chiefs: Pauliasi Manu, Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Squire, Augustine Pulu, Aaron Cruden (c), Tom Marshall, Bundee Aki, Robbie Fruean, Dwayne Sweeney, Gareth Anscombe. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Matt Symons, Tevita Koloamatangi, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams, James Lowe.
Which 2015 NZ Super Rugby team looks best?