The Chiefs have named a formidable side to face the reigning champions, the Crusaders, in a battle for the DHL Super Rugby Pacific title at a sold-out FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday.
The starting lineup boasts considerable experience with an average of 78 caps per player for the Gallagher Chiefs, led by co-captain Sam Cane who will celebrate his 150th game for the club, only the second player to achieve the feat in the club’s history behind Liam Messam.
Alongside Cane in the loose forwards will be Pita Gus Sowakula, shifting to the starting XV as the only change to the Gallagher Chiefs side that played in the semi-final. Luke Jacobson will start in the No.8 jersey and Samipeni Finau, who was earlier this week named in the All Blacks squad for the first time, will provide support from the bench.
Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei'aho and George Dyer will establish a strong front row, with Brodie Retallick and Tupou Vaa'i to complete a relentless tight five. Support off the bench for this group will come in the form of Ollie Norris and John Ryan at prop, Tyrone Thompson at hooker and Naitoa Ah Kuoi for the locks.
Co-captain Brad Weber will start at halfback in his final game for the club, with Cortez Ratima to provide further energy from the bench.
Damian McKenzie, who has kicked over 1000 meters more than any other player in the competition (7,885 meters) will start at first-five, with Anton Lienert-Brown and Alex Nankivell to start for the midfield.
Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa and Shaun Stevenson will round off a dynamic backline. Stevenson, who has had an outstanding season at fullback, boasts the most direct involvement in tries for the competition (18), with 11 tries and 7 try assists.
The additional impact from the reserves will come from Josh Ioane for first-five and Rameka Poihipi in the midfield.
The DHL Super Rugby Pacific Final will kick off at 7.05pm at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night.
Gallagher Chiefs team to face the Crusaders:
1. Aidan Ross (73)
2. Samisoni Taukei'aho (76)
3. George Dyer (20)
4. Brodie Retallick (127)
5. Tupou Vaa'i (43)
6. Pita Gus Sowakula (68)
7. Sam Cane (Co-Captain, 149)
8. Luke Jacobson (62)
9. Brad Weber (Co-Captain, 122)
10. Damian McKenzie (110)
11. Etene Nanai-Seturo (43)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (105)
13. Alex Nankivell (69)
14. Emoni Narawa (28)
15. Shaun Stevenson (83)
16. Tyrone Thompson (14)
17. Ollie Norris (44)
18. John Ryan (16)
19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi (48)
20. Samipeni Finau (31)
21. Cortez Ratima (25)
22. Josh Ioane (10)
23. Rameka Poihipi (29)
Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets.
The Crusaders have named their last squad of the ’23 season, including the return of departing veteran Sam Whitelock.
Crusader #142, Whitelock has played 177 games for the franchise, and the final will be his last in the No. 5 jersey.
For the third week in a row, the front row remains unchanged. Tamaiti Williams, Codie Taylor and Oliver Jager, providing consistent strength to the Crusaders formidable scrum. Williams was just last week named as a debutant in the All Blacks squad – good reward for the work he’s put in this year.
Captain Scott Barrett leads the pack at No. 4, the balance of the tight five being Sam Whitelock, Sioni Talitui, Tom Christie, and Christian Lio-Willie.
Departing playmaker and Crusaders centurion Richie Mo’unga fronts as first five once again, with Mitchell Drummond taking up duties at halfback.
Another leaving our shores at the end of 2023 is Leicester Fainga’anuku who pulls on the No. 11 jersey for the last time.
Jack Goodhue occupies No. 12, well and truly back to his stellar form for the team.
An incomporable mid-field pairing, and both recently named in the All Blacks squad, Braydon Ennor and Dallas McLeod take the field from kick off.
Will Jordan provides wisdom, speed, and an uncanny ability to predict what’s coming from fullback. Expect a solid back line with him in control.
Ready to make an impact off the bench are George Bell, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Reuben O’Neill. Quinten Strange, Dominic Gardiner, Willi Heinz, Fergus Burke and Chay Fihaki.
Crusaders team to take on Chiefs
- Tamaiti Williams
- Codie Taylor
- Oliver Jager
- Scott Barrett (c)
- Sam Whitelock
- Sione Havili Talitui
- Tom Christie
- Christian Lio-Willie
- Mitchell Drummond
- Richie Mo’unga
- Leicester Fainga’anuku
- Jack Goodhue (vc)
- Braydon Ennor
- Dallas McLeod
- Will Jordan
- George Bell
- Kershawl Sykes-Martin
- Reuben O’Neill
- Quinten Strange
- Dominic Gardiner
- Willi Heinz
- Fergus Burke
- Chay Fihaki