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Chiefs tweak loosie trio for Blues tussle

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/03/2017

A Sam Cane-less Chiefs have reshuffled their loose forward trio for their Super Rugby battle with the Blues in Hamilton on Friday.

Michael Leitch will play his first game of the season at No.8 as he teams up with former Test blindside Liam Messam and the promising Lachlan Boshier.

The 25-year-old Cane, a co-captain at the Waikato-based franchise, remains on the sidelines with an ankle issue picked up with the All Blacks last year.

Young gun Mitch Karpik, who played in the side's 24-15 victory over the Highlanders last week, has also been rested.

Chiefs assistant Andrew Strawbridge said he was keen to get Japanese stalwart Leitch into the fray while also rotating his opensides in Cane's absence.

The selection also reflects the challenge of facing Auckland's fearsome loose forwards, including the likes of Steven Luatua and the benched Jerome Kaino.

"Michael's a genuine international No.8 and having him back with his level-headedness and professional approach is really good," Strawbridge said.

"Mitch Karpik's had quite a heavy load so it's a case of giving two guys we have the utmost faith in an opportunity."

Chiefs first-five and co-captain Aaron Cruden will also play his 100th Super Rugby game when the two sides take to the field on Friday.

Cruden, 28, played 25 games for the Hurricanes before switching to the Chiefs in 2012, where he linked up with his former Manawatu boss Dave Rennie.

The 47-cap All Black has since clocked up 74 games for the Waikato-based franchise, leading them to the title in 2012 and 2013.

"Aaron's grown so much over the last six years as a leader and is inspirational for us," Strawbridge said.

"He's an incredibly brave individual."

Elsewhere, Rennie and Strawbridge have made one change in the backs, with Tim Nanai-Williams replacing Toni Pulu on the right edge.

Strawbridge said the change was made with the 27-year-old Nanai-Williams' powerful running game in mind.

James Lowe, who scored two intercepts as the Chiefs broke a three-year drought to beat the Highlanders, has retained his place on the left wing.

CHIEFS: Damian McKenzie, Tim Nanai-Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Johnny Faauli, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Michael Leitch, Lachlan Boshier, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Hika Elliot, Kane Hames. RESERVES: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Siegried Fisi'ihoi, Atu Moli, Taleni Seu, Tom Sanders, Jonathan Taumateine, Toni Pulu, Shaun Stevenson.

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