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McNicol backed to fill Ngatai shoes

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/05/2017

Charlie Ngatai's loss is Sam McNicol's gain for the Chiefs, with the Test midfielder's fresh headaches ruling him out of the Super Rugby side's all-Kiwi derby with the Crusaders in Fiji on Friday.

Ngatai returned from a 12-month concussion-enforced absence just 12 days ago, playing as his side secured a thumping 46-17 win over the Reds in New Plymouth.

But he has since suffered a recurrence of the headaches that blighted him in 2016, and will sit out the match in Suva.

The 26-year-old's absence gives McNicol another opportunity in the midfield alongside second-five Anton Lienert-Brown.

"Sam's played accurately for us when he's started at centre - he's reading the defence really well and is a deeply competitive man," Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge told reporters.

Stephen Donald, meanwhile, makes way for a recuperated Aaron Cruden after dominating proceedings in Taranaki against the Reds.

The Chiefs have also lost winger Toni Pulu to a hamstring injury, allowing Tim Nanai-Williams to return to the fold.

Nanai-Williams dislocated his shoulder against the Hurricanes in March and Strawbridge was grateful to have him back.

"Tim's one of our best outside backs and has been for a long time - he gives us speed and power in that position and has been training well," Strawbridge said.

Strawbridge also said the Chiefs were bracing for a step-up in intensity, having avoided sides in the New Zealand conference since round three.

He said it was a perfect opportunity for his troops to test themselves against the best, with the Crusaders unbeaten in 2017.

"We have built up a pretty strong rivalry with them over the years, it's not often you get to test yourself against Test-quality players," Strawbridge said.

"That's why you play sport - for the times when it's really tough."

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