McKenzie returns as Gatland looks for a strong finish to his first game in charge of the Chiefs

McKenzie returns as Gatland looks for a strong finish to his first game in charge of the Chiefs

Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland has named his side first side of the 2020 season which will face the Blues at Eden Park.

The selected twenty-three will see three debutants in Waikato centre Quinn Tupaea and Bay of Plenty first five-eighth Kaleb Trask, named in the starting fifteen and Wellington lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi hoping to debut off the bench.

The front row will feature loose head prop Aidan Ross pack down alongside tighthead All Black prop Nepo Laulala and hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho. Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown will be the starting locking duo with debutant Ah Kuoi covering on the bench. In the loose forwards Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik will be at six and seven respectively, with Gallagher Chiefs Captain Sam Cane packing down the scrum at number eight.

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In the backs, halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will combine with 21-year-old Trask at ten. In the midfield Alex Nankivell will don the number 12 jersey, with Tupaea named at centre. A familiar back three will start with Solomon Alaimalo on the left wing and Sean Wainui on the right and crafty full back Damian McKenzie to complete an exciting backline.

Chiefs rookie hooker Bradley Slater will be joined by an experienced bench of props in All Blacks Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao. Pita Gus Sowakula will provide loose forward cover. Backline cover will feature a ton of experience in All Black Brad Weber, returning first five-eighth Aaron Cruden and All Black midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown.

Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing a competitive battle between the northern rivals.

“We have an exciting squad and we believe the team we have chosen reflects this. It is a great opportunity for our rookies to pull on the Gallagher Chiefs jersey for the first time in what is expected to be a great competitive derby between two rival sides. We know the Blues will be a good sturdy challenge first up but one the boys and fans are excited about.”

Gallagher Chiefs:
1. Aidan Ross (25)
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (22)
3. Nepo Laulala (32)
4. Tyler Ardron (26)
5. Mitchell Brown (33)
6. Lachlan Boshier (44)
7. Mitchell Karpik (20)
8. Sam Cane (111) ©
9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (32)
10. Kaleb Trask**
11. Solomon Alaimalo (38)
12. Alex Nankivell (22)
13. Quinn Tupaea**
14. Sean Wainui (26)
15. Damian McKenzie (72)

16. Bradley Slater (2)
17. Atu Moli (38)
18. Angus Ta’avao (32)
19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi**
20. Pita Gus Sowakula (15)
21. Brad Weber (72)
22. Aaron Cruden (89)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (69)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Chiefs debut
**denotes Super Rugby debut

Unavailable for selection:
Laghlan McWhannell, Luke Jacobson, Michael Allardice, Nathan Harris, Reuben O’Neill and Tumua Manu.

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