Experience wins Horrell starting No 12 spot

SURPRISE STARTER: After missing most of the season, Andrew Horrell will start ahead of Bundee Aki tomorrow night for the Chiefs.
SURPRISE STARTER: After missing most of the season, Andrew Horrell will start ahead of Bundee Aki tomorrow night for the Chiefs.

This time last year Andrew Horrell was Mr Fixit for the Chiefs at centre.

Twelve months later it is one place in where the Hawke's Bay utility back is a surprise starter for Saturday night's Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium.

Horrell has been chosen ahead of Bundee Aki, who two weeks ago was the players' choice as the Chiefs' rookie of the year at their annual awards night and has been the starting No 12 for the majority of their games this year, admirably filling the gap left vacant by the departure of Sonny Bill Williams at the end of last season.

It is one of four changes to the Chiefs' backline from that which started against the Blues a fortnight ago, with the forward pack remaining the same.

Horrell moves from fullback in that match to his preferred midfield spot where he will pair up with centre Charlie Ngatai, who replaces the injured Tim Nanai-Williams.

Gareth Anscombe comes back into the starting line-up to fill the vacant fullback spot and Asaeli Tikoirotuma returns on the left wing in place of Robbie Robinson, who together with Aki moves to the reserves bench.

Horrell missed a big chunk of this season with a lower ankle sprain that involved damage to three ligaments, but he fought back and came back via the bench against the Hurricanes and Crusaders before his start at fullback against the Blues.

"There's probably a bit of a utility tag on my head, a lot of players have that, but I'm pretty excited about this opportunity I've been given and I've just got to make the most of it," Horrell said.

"Obviously I've played a lot of 12 for Hawke's Bay so I'm pretty confident there and I played two Super games there earlier this year so I've got that to fall back on as well."

For Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie it came down to experience and rugby smarts now that Horrell is fully fit and with some game time under his belt.

When it was decided in an equally tight decision that Anscombe would get the fullback berth after some game time off the bench against the Blues following his broken foot then midfield was where they needed to slot Horrell.

"Hozzer has plenty of rugby nous and ability to get balls away under pressure and so on, so he's just a heady player and it was important to find a spot for him," Rennie said.

Horrell was more comfortable at 12 while Ngatai was at ease in either midfield position so that combination was chosen.

"We need 22 guys to win this game and most of the time Bundee has started and he gets to have an impact on this game off the bench," Rennie said.

Anscombe's goal-kicking was also deemed a factor in his selection although Rennie confirmed first-five Aaron Cruden would start the semi-final as the Chiefs' goal-kicker.

"Both are keen to kick, both want the responsibility, which is great from our point of view because went you go into these big games you want people stepping up.

"Aaron's assured us he will kick better than he did last time against the Blues and he has kicked really well in big games under pressure. You want your key playmaker keen to take responsibility."

While there were no changes to the Chiefs' forward pack, two of them did not take part in yesterday afternoon's main training run.

Hooker Hika Elliot was recovering from a bout of food poisoning from the previous day and flanker Tanerau Latimer, who again got the nod at openside ahead of incumbent All Black Sam Cane, was again resting his bruised calf after taking part in a light run in the morning.

"[Latimer] will be good. He trained quite a bit on Tuesday and obviously we had a light run this morning and we're just conscious of the workload on that calf so we decided not to run him this afternoon."

The Chiefs front row is unchanged with Ben Tameifuna holding his tighthead spot and Ben Afeaki coming back from a back injury for a bench spot, while Toby Smith again heads off Pauliasi Manu for the No1 jersey.

Elliot will be backed up from the bench by youngster Rhys Marshall as he did in the first game of the season with Mahonri Schwalger's knee now having deteriorated to the stage where he was not considered for selection.

Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Charlie Ngatai, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Toby Smith. Res: Rhys Marshall, Ben Afeaki, Mike Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, August Pulu, Bundee Aki, Robbie Robinson.

Waikato Times