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Mid-week Lions no easy-beats for Chiefs

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6 days ago Angelo Risso

Chiefs boss Dave Rennie expects the British and Irish Lions' mid-week players to bring plenty of heat to their clash on Tuesday, in the hope of scraping a spot on the bench for Saturday's first Test.

Rennie has named an understrength squad for the Hamilton match, with Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Nathan Harris and Tawera Kerr-Barlow all absent due to their All Blacks Test commitments.

Charlie Ngatai and Damian McKenzie, meanwhile, have not been asked to back up from their Maori All Blacks exploits on Saturday in Rotorua.

Chiefs veteran and 2011 Rugby World Cup hero Stephen Donald will skipper the inexperienced side, with Tim Nanai-Williams the only other member of the starting XV to play for the Chiefs more than 30 times.

Hikawera Elliot and Liam Messam will start from the bench.

Like the Chiefs, Warren Gatland's Lions are expected to name an understrength side for the match, with their Test in Auckland just days away.

Rennie predicted that Gatland, a Waikato native, would already have his Test XV nailed down - but may still be looking for bench cover.

That would give Tuesday's troops something to fight for.

"They've got a number of guys who will be keen to play Test footy on this tour, and maybe there's a chance to scrape some spots on the bench - (because) I imagine that Test XV will be nailed," Rennie told reporters on Sunday.

"I think they've got a lot to play for and likewise, for our guys, with the few guys we've got missing, (they'll) be keen to make a bit of a statement.

"I'm sure he's telling the players playing against us to get excited about it, to go out and play and put pressure on him and the other selectors."

With Cruden and McKenzie absent, the 33-year-old Donald will direct proceedings from first-five, with Finlay Christie at halfback.

Nanai-Williams and Johnny Fa'auli line up in midfield, with a speedy back three of Shaun Stevenson, Toni Pulu and Solomon Alaimalo outside them.

Up front, Dominic Bird will look to continue his positive Super Rugby form in the second row, while Nepo Laulala has been chosen as tighthead prop.

Rennie said he had plenty of confidence in his young troops to get the job done.

"It's an absolute privilege to play in this sort of fixture - we certainly don't want the young fellas to be scared and go into their shell," Rennie said.

"It's not a mystery that we like to use the ball, try and play a high-tempo, high-skilled game of footy, and the Lions have been excellent at choking teams from doing that - so we've got a few challenges ahead of us."

CHIEFS: Shaun Stevenson, Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Fa'auli, Solomon Alaimalo, Stephen Donald (c), Finlay Christie, Tom Sanders, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Michael Allardice, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Liam Polwart, Siegried Fisi'ihoi. RESERVES: Hikawera Elliot, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Liam Messam, Mitchell Karpik, Jonathan Taumateine, Luteru Laulala, Chase Tiatia.

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