Spotlight on McKenzie in Christchurch
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper has selected a physical and experienced line-up for Saturday's clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The starting Xv features five 2017 All Blacks in the forward pack alone, as well as the much-talked-about combination of Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie in the No.9 and No.10.
"Everyone is talking about Damian, but it's just about giving him time at 10," said Cooper.
"Brad is coming off an injury, but played really well in the preseason and shows a lot of excitement if he can get into space."
The Chiefs have a tight five of Aidan Ross, Nathan Harris, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick and Dominic Bird.
"Mitchell Brown had a very good game against the Brumbies [in last weeks' pre-season match] and brings a lot of physicality. Sam Cane is an All Black with proven leadership, and a hard worker. Taleni Seu is new at number eight, but I like his skill, speed and power off the back of the scrum," Cooper added.
The midfield combination of Johnny Faauli and Anton Lienert-Brown is strong, while co-captain Charlie Ngatai will start in the No.15 jersey.
The Chiefs and the Crusaders have had quite the opening round history, facing off against each other three times in the last decade in Christchurch. They played in 2009 (Crusaders won 19-13), 2014 (Chiefs won 18-10), 2016 (Chiefs won 27-21), and now this weekend, which is eagerly awaited throughout New Zealand.
Chiefs: 15 Charlie Ngatai (captain), 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Atunaisa Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui.
Date: Saturday, February 24
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)