Chiefs' Horrell on high after injury comeback
When Chiefs utility Andrew Horrell went down against New South Wales back in round 10, there were fears his season might have been over.
But as the Chiefs prepare to take on the Hurricanes in a crucial Super Rugby encounter at Waikato Stadium tomorrow, the utility back will have completed a remarkable comeback from a high ankle sprain when he was named on the bench.
"I'm stoked to be back. Obviously the first initial thoughts after I did it was she's gone for the season," Horrell said.
"The physios and that have got me ready so I'm pretty stoked to be back out there."
As the Super Rugby competition resumes for most sides, Horrell said the team's goal was to put together some strong performances, starting this weekend against the Hurricanes
"The next few games are pretty big for us so obviously the first home one here [since the international break] we really want to put out a big performance and personally I'm pretty excited about getting back out on the field."
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie believed the international break had been beneficial in some respects as it allowed some of his players to recover from injuries.
"It has been good for us, just a chance to freshen up, a chance to focus on some other key areas.
"While we're not all back at a hundy [100%] yet, we've got most guys back on deck and that's pretty exciting," Rennie said.
With Horrell's return, Rennie has made three other changes to the starting XV that played the Crusaders in their last outing before the All Black test series as several players return from injury.
The one change in the forwards sees newly capped All Black Ben Afeaki start at prop and Ben Tameifuna moves to the bench.
In the backs, Tim Nanai-Williams returns at centre and Lelia Masaga earns the start on the right wing in place of Patrick Osborne who drops out of the playing 22.
The New Zealand conference leaders have labelled tomorrow's encounter as the official farewell match for several of their players. Co-captain Craig Clarke, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard and Toby Smith all set to depart at the end of the season.
Rennie expects the Hurricanes to play a positive brand of footy as they always do but said this game would hold a bit more significance being the last home game of the round robin before hitting the road for the final two games against the Crusaders and Blues.
"It's obviously our last round robin game at home.
"We had a great crowd against the Crusaders and we anticipate it will be a big crowd again.
"We know if we get points in this game then that puts us in a pretty strong position - we'll definitely be in the playoffs - so I guess it is one of three really important games for us over the next three weeks."
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have made three changes to their run on side that played the Brumbies before the break; Karl Lowe returns to the No. 7 jersey in place of Samoan international Jack Lam who falls out of the 22.
Alapati Leiua is another to return from the Samoan team and will come off the bench.
Matt Proctor was named on the wing while James Marshall will be at fullback replacing Andre Taylor who has a shoulder injury.
Flanker Faifili Levave was bracketed on the bench with Blade Thompson but is expected to be in the 22, having been in a moon boot earlier this week.
CHIEFS: Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke , Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot and Pauliasi Manu Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Andrew Horrell and Charlie Ngatai.
HURRICANES: James Marshall, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith (c), Reynold Lee-Lo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Brad Shields, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Dane Coles and Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Reggie Goodes, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave / Blade Thomson, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi and Alapati Leiua