The Chiefs have gone big and young as they fill the holes left in their tight five by first-game injuries, and do some extra tinkering with their pack.
With fellow Hawke's Bay 20-year-old Brodie Retallick proving a hit in his first game at lock against the Highlanders last weekend, 138kg tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna will make his Super Rugby debut tomorrow night against the Blues at Waikato Stadium.
Tameifuna, 20, replaces Ben Afeaki who broke his forearm in the opening minutes against the Highlanders and is out for 12 weeks after surgery this week.
Afeaki is a big man in his own right at 127kg but Tameifuna has got 11kg on him and the word out of the Chiefs' camp throughout preseason training was that he was virtually immovable at scrum time. While Tameifuna has played only nine games of ITM Cup championship division rugby for Hawke's Bay since making his debut as a teenager in 2010, Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie believes he is ready for Super Rugby.
"He's a big man – 138 kilos, he's a real block from a scrum point of view and he's worked really hard in that area since he's been in the mix here and so we're pretty confident he can do the job there," Rennie said.
"For a big man he's superbly skilled; he's got a great skill set and he understands the game pretty well, so we just want to get him out there.
"I guess if we didn't have injuries, he might have been in the wings a little bit longer, but we reckon he's ready to go."
Rennie believed the high-profile rugby Tameifuna had played for Hawke's Bay, New Zealand Under-20s and New Zealand Schools had shown he had the necessary temperament.
Experienced Samoa World Cup captain Mahonri Schwalger has been selected alongside Tameifuna at hooker, and although Rennie said that was a factor in Schwalger's selection it was also a case of both him and Hika Elliot, who started the first match, having little between them and both getting chances to start in the opening games.
Also coming into the loose forward mix are 1.98m, 113kg Samoa lock Kane Thompson at No8 in place of Fritz Lee, and the experienced Tanerau Latimer at openside flanker instead of Sam Cane.
The upshot is a pack weighing 911kg.
"You put Ben Tameifuna in there and you're going to add a few kilos already, aren't you? But it is a good-sized pack and there's a challenge ahead of them, which we think they will be up to.
"We know we're going to come up against a really good and experienced pack as well."
Rennie said there was not much between Cane and Latimer, the latter having more experience, and like the hookers it was a case of their form at the start of the season determining the pecking order.
But Thompson's selection at the back of the scrum is more a case of some disappointment at Lee's lack of control at times in the opening match.
"We were just a little bit too untidy at various times last week and we made a fair few errors that put a bit of pressure on us. We think Kane will bring that solidity to the No8 position and again he is a very experienced player.
"He's also a very good lineout forward, Kane, so that gives us another really good lineout option. He's a big man, he's experienced and he's got a bloody good rugby brain, so his decision-making under pressure will be important for us," Rennie said.
Shane Cleaver, able to play both sides of the front row, comes in as the reserve prop in the absence of Afeaki and Toby Smith, who is out for four to six weeks with a calf strain, and joins Elliot, Lee and Cane as the reserve forwards.
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and right winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma, who both saw action off the bench last weekend, come in to the starting XV to replace the injured Brendon Leonard and Lelia Masaga respectively.
Leonard's recovery time is now put at 12 weeks, while Masaga is expected to be out for only three weeks. That in turn brings Augustine Pulu and Declan O'Donnell on to the bench.
Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Nanai-Williams, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam (c), Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Shane Cleaver, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Andrew Horrell, Declan O'Donnell.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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