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Chiefs says newcomers ready for step-up

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/02/2017
Anton Lienert-Brown. © Getty Images Anton Lienert-Brown.

The Chiefs are confident their wave of fresh-faced players can make an impact early in Super Rugby.

Five players are in line to make their debuts for the Waikato-based outfit against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.

Auckland's Mitchell Karpik will start at open side flanker while another 21-year-old, Taranaki livewire Johnny Faauli, is at centre outside All Blacks second five-eighth Anton Lienert-Brown.

Assistant coach Neil Barnes was not prepared to risk Test flanker Sam Cane, who is still recovering from ankle injury.

"We didn't consider Sam this week but obviously we're all pretty excited about letting Karpik loose," Barnes said.

"He's very enthusiastic and quite an aggressive man on the paddock."

Faauli was given the nod over the more experienced Tim Nanai Williams to combat the Highlanders powerful midfield combination of Malakai Fekitoa and Rob Thompson.

"Johnny's had a good pre-season and he's earned our respect," Barnes said.

"He's an abrasive player and that helps at the start of the game when everyone's challenging and coming hard and straight at you."

Four-Test All Black Nepo Laulala will also make his first start at prop for the Chiefs, having missed all of last year with a knee injury after transferring from the Crusaders.

"It's going to take him a while to get back to his best so I don't expect too much but I'm really looking forward to see him grow this season" Barnes said.

Two uncapped Chiefs on the bench are 19-year-old hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho and 20-year-old halfback Jonathan Taumateine.

The two-time champions, however, will not be lacking for class with 10 past or present All Blacks in their starting lineup including captain Aaron Cruden and halves partner Tawera Kerr Barlow.

"Obviously it's a big help when you've got players with that type of experience but every time you rock onto the paddock you've got to make your mark, as reputations don't win you games," Barnes said.

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