Laulala returns to Super Rugby fold
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala will make his long-awaited return to the field after being handed a starting role for the Chiefs in their Super Rugby opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
Laulala, who initially joined the Chiefs in 2016 after spending three seasons with the Crusaders, has worked his way back to full fitness after suffering a knee injury in January 2016. The prop made his All Blacks debut against Samoa in 2015.
Laulala is joined by nine other players who have international experience in the Chiefs starting XV while they will also have a pair of debutants in the run-on team. Flank Mitchell Karpik and inside centre Johnny Faauli (both 21) have been handed starting debuts while 19-year-old Waikato hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho and Counties Manukau's Jonathan Taumateine, 20, could earn their first caps off the bench.
"I feel like a 10-year-old kid again, I'm just really excited to lace up my boots and play some rugby," Karpik said.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Date: Friday, February 24
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)