Tawera Kerr-Barlow loves running and came back to the Chiefs this summer after his All Blacks break jumping out of his skin, immediately breaking yo-yo test records.
But the 14-test halfback missed the start of the Super Rugby season last week when he rolled an ankle at the final major training run and displaced a cuboid bone in his foot.
His naming as one of six changes to the Chiefs' starting XV to take on the Highlanders in the first home game of the season at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night is timely with fellow No 9 Augustine Pulu now out with a knee injury.
There is still a slight doubt about Kerr-Barlow's fitness. He didn't take part in yesterday's main team run and head coach Dave Rennie said he would have to get through today's captain's run in order to take his place in the lineup, otherwise Brad Weber would start and Jono Kitto would come onto the bench.
But the player himself is confident he will be there providing co-skipper and playmaker Aaron Cruden with his usual snappy service after staying out of the firing line in yesterday's practice as a precaution.
"It's pretty much healed up 100 per cent and just feels it's as good as it ever was," Kerr-Barlow said.
"The physios have done a great job so I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to play.
"I felt like training [yesterday] but just in case I woke up and the foot was puffy again I've kept off it and hopefully I'll have a drama-free run [today] and be good for Saturday."
Having looked forward to the start of the season he said it had been a "real bummer" to suffer the injury last Wednesday.
"But I've watched a lot of footage and stuff and just running behind the boys [yesterday], so trying to be with the boys as much as I can so I'm feeling pretty good about it," Kerr-Barlow said.
"Injury's something you can't control and you've just got to roll with it, but thankfully I'm probably going to be in good enough nick to play this next game."
And he is backing his forward pack to give him a launching pad tomorrow night, particularly at scrum time.
"The whole front row felt like they didn't provide a genuine enough platform to launch off last week so obviously it's been something we've been talking about.
"Dark arts go on in there and I don't really know much about scrummaging, but you ask the big boys to provide a good platform and more often than not they do it so I'm sure they'll come through this week," he said.
It is the forward pack where the Chiefs have really rung the changes with the rest of the starting backline and back reserves remaining the same.
A combination of injuries, players returning from injury and the normal squad rotation to keep players match fit and competing with each other are responsible for the changes from the side that held out the Crusaders 18-10 in last Friday's competition opener.
Five of the starting forward pack change, while co-captain Liam Messam moves from blindside flanker to No 8 to accommodate Nick Crosswell coming in on the side of the scrum, replacing last week's starting No 8 Kane Thompson, who has been ruled out with a groin injury.
Tanerau Latimer has been passed fit to start on the open side of the scrum after elbow/hand and pectoral injuries and replaces last week's debutant Tevita Koloamatangi, who moves to the bench.
Lock Brodie Retallick and tighthead prop Ben Afeaki have both been ruled out with continuing concussion symptoms after their nasty head clash in the Crusaders match, Retallick replaced by newcomer Matt Symons and Afeaki on the bench by Josh Hohneck.
Pauliasi Manu comes in to start at loosehead prop, Jamie Mackintosh moving to the bench, while Mahonri Schwalger returns after eye surgery to replace Rhys Marshall as the starting hooker.
Liam Squire is the other newcomer on the bench, the loose forward/lock poised to become the eighth new Chief to earn his first cap in two matches.
Rennie said the starting front row changes were as much about creating competition for places as anything else, while Retallick and Afeaki were close but still had slight symptoms and it was not worth risking them. Retallick's neck problem has cleared up.
"We know next week we've got a bye so that will pretty much give them three weeks from when they did it until when they play again," Rennie said.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams, Robbie Fruean, Charlie Ngatai, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Nick Crosswell, Matt Symons, Mike Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Pauliasi Manu. Res: Rhys Marshall, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Tevita Koloamatangi, Liam Squire, Brad Weber, Andrew Horrell, James Lowe.
- Waikato Times
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