Liam Squire could not have drawn a more formidable loose forward trio to make his starting debut against for the Chiefs but says he is up for it.
The 22-year-old Tasman loose forward, who impressed off the bench in his debut against the Highlanders, will start at No 8 against the Stormers tomorrow night at Waikato Stadium.
Lining up against him will be powerful Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen, just-as-big Springbok legend Schalk Burger and impressive opensider Deon Fourie.
But Squire, who toured North America with the Maori All Blacks last year, can't wait to take his chance, no matter who the opposition is. And at 1.96m and 113kg he also has size on side.
''They're big boys and physical so it's going to be a challenge, but I think I'm up for it,'' Squire said of the Stormers trio.
His introduction to the starting back row spot, allowing co-captain Liam Messam to move back to his preferred blindside flanker spot and Nick Crosswell dropping to the bench, is one of six personnel and three positional changes to the Chiefs' starting XV from that which played the Highlanders nearly two weeks ago.
This could be Squire's chance to nail down the No 8 jersey that has been a contentious one in the last couple of seasons, mainly due to injuries. But he doesn't see it that way.
''I guess you could look at it like that but I just want to try and play my game and hopefully keep the coaches happy and then progress from there.''
With All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow behind him giving direction and centurions Messam and Tanerau Latimer alongside him he said would not lack support.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said there was a real opportunity for Squire.
''He had a good cameo off the bench. He's a hell of an athlete and now obviously he needs to show us he can do a bit of graft, but he's also a very good lineout forward. We're pretty excited.''
The introduction of Gareth Anscombe at fullback, in place of Mils Muliaina, and Tom Marshall, in the surprise position of second five-eighth, are two of the changes from the team that started against the Highlanders.
Anscombe has come back from reconstruction surgery on both shoulders in the off-season, while Marshall had to recover from surgery to repair a ruptured thumb ligament as well as a back injury and this will be the first appearance of the season for both players.
It will be Marshall's Chiefs debut, having played for the Crusaders last season. He played mostly on the wing for the Crusaders and mostly at second-five for Tasman in last year's national provincial championship, but moved to the Chiefs in search of more play at fullback.
Charlie Ngatai, who scored the winning try against the Highlanders after moving to second-five late in that game, shifts to centre for this match, with Robbie Fruean dropping to the bench.
Tasman winger James Lowe gets his first Super Rugby start on the left wing in place of regular starter Asaeli Tikoirotuma, who moves to the bench.
Young All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick returns from a concussion layoff to take his place at tighthead lock with newcomer Matt Symons moving across to loosehead lock in place of Mike Fitzgerald after filling in for Retallick against the Highlanders.
There is also one change in the starting front row with Jamie Mackintosh back at loosehead prop in place of Pauliasi Manu, who returns to the bench.
Sam Cane, Ben Afeaki and Augustine Pulu look likely to be back in time to go on tour next week and be available for the next match against the Force in Perth, but utility back Robbie Robinson is looking more and more likely to miss the whole season with his hip injury, but he will have another scan once he has rested it further. If ruled out he will be officially replaced in the squad as hooker Hika Elliot has now been by Nathan Harris.
Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Tom Marshall, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam (vc), Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Jamie Mackintosh. Res: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Josh Hohneck, Michael Fitzgerald, Tevita Koloamatangi, Brad Weber, Robbie Fruean, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
- Waikato Times
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