Andrew Horrell was one of the surprise packages of the Chiefs this season when he made a successful change from back-up five-eighth to starting fullback.
Now he's set to make another stunning switch, selected to play centre in one of the biggest games of the season.
With All Black Richard Kahui's season long over, due to reconstructive surgery on a shoulder, Horrell was yesterday named to replace Jackson Willison in the No13 jersey in the Chiefs team to play the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night.
It is one of four changes Dave Rennie and his coaching group have made to the top-of-the-table Chiefs' starting lineup as they target a Super Rugby home semifinal by winning their last two games of the regular season, but is easily the most surprising.
It seems that now Horrell is over the ankle injury he suffered in training last week, the coaches wanted to get him on the paddock and Robbie Robinson's form last week at fullback was also too good to ignore.
Rennie said people had said the same about Horrell's lack of experience when moved to the fullback spot and he was a big success there.
"He's a really good footballer and we're pretty confident he can fit in there [at centre] easily," Rennie said.
"He's trained a bit [at 13] and obviously trained a bit at 10, 15 and 12 as well, so he's pretty versatile and we're pretty comfortable with the decision."
But Rennie admitted that unlike 15, where Horrell had played when at school, he could not this time point to any experience the player had had playing centre.
"But we're not too concerned. It's been a pretty seamless transition."
The other three changes to the starting lineup are in the forwards and one of those happiest to return there is No8 Alex Bradley, who replaces the injured Kane Thompson.
While the Chiefs lose Thompson's lineout presence they gain Bradley's direct and powerful ball-carrying ability.
Rennie said Bradley was their best player in a mid-break hitout against Bay of Plenty and Counties-Manukau a couple of weeks ago, carrying superbly and defending well. "I think it's going to be that sort of game early on. It will be pretty confrontational and Alex is the right man for that."
Bradley said it was great to finally get back in the starting XV after training for a number of weeks and only getting to play club rugby.
"Super 15 is quick and it's physical, but I've had a taste of it now and I'm just happy to be getting the opportunity to get out on the field again."
Bradley said it would be a great challenge for him playing against the world's best No8 in Kieran Read.
"It's going to be a test. We've got just about an All Black forward pack to play against and definitely a lot of key players in their backline too, but we're prepared and ready for it. We can't wait.
"We don't want to take a backward step. We want to keep moving forward and we've got to be physical and dominant on the field on Friday night and show our crowd a good game."
Bradley is joined in the loose forward trio by young All Black openside flanker Sam Cane, who gets his turn this week ahead of Tanerau Latimer, who goes to the bench.
Rennie said Cane deserved his opportunity and it would be "a hell of a matchup" between him and Richie McCaw. "The key for him will be the quality of the work in front of him. We need to have a good set-piece for him to be dominant."
The other change is in the front row where try-scoring sensation Sona Taumalolo returns in place of Toby Smith at loosehead prop, giving the Chiefs the same front row they had in round three when they upset the Crusaders in Napier.
"There's been a fair few comments made in the media from them about that challenge there, but we're pretty comfortable with the group we've chosen."
Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Alex Bradley, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Toby Smith, Romana Graham, Tanerau Latimer, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga.
- Waikato Times
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