The Gallagher Chiefs have named a formidable side to face the reigning champions, the Crusaders, in a battle for the DHL Super Rugby Pacific title at a sold-out FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday.
The starting lineup boasts considerable experience with an average of 78 caps per player for the Gallagher Chiefs, led by co-captain Sam Cane who will celebrate his 150th game for the club, only the second player to achieve the feat in the club’s history behind Liam Messam.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said: “We are fortunate to have named a relatively unchanged line-up from last week for this week’s final. Being put under pressure over the last few weeks has given us real belief we can deal with whatever comes our way on the weekend.
“The Crusaders are clearly a quality side who will come here well prepared, with a lot of belief, and a legacy of turning up on the big stage. We respect that – there’s no point denying it, but we aren’t daunted by the task at hand either.”
Alongside Cane in the loose forwards will be Pita Gus Sowakula, shifting to the starting XV as the only change to the Gallagher Chiefs side that played in the semi-final. Luke Jacobson will start in the No.8 jersey and Samipeni Finau, who was earlier this week named in the All Blacks squad for the first time, will provide support from the bench.
Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho and George Dyer will establish a strong front row, with Brodie Retallick and Tupou Vaa’i to complete a relentless tight five. Support off the bench for this group will come in the form of Ollie Norris and John Ryan at prop, Tyrone Thompson at hooker and Naitoa Ah Kuoi for the locks.
Co-captain Brad Weber will start at halfback in his final game for the club, with Cortez Ratima to provide further energy from the bench.
Damian McKenzie, who has kicked over 1000 meters more than any other player in the competition (7,885 meters) will start at first-five, with Anton Lienert-Brown and Alex Nankivell to start for the midfield.
Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa and Shaun Stevenson will round off a dynamic backline. Stevenson, who has had an outstanding season at fullback, boasts the most direct involvement in tries for the competition (18), with 11 tries and 7 try assists.
The additional impact from the reserves will come from Josh Ioane for first-five and Rameka Poihipi in the midfield.
“There has been an obvious spike in excitement through the week, and the team are especially pumped to play in front of our loyal supporters in a packed FMG Stadium Waikato. We need to do the business on the field, but it’s an advantage to be playing at home, so get your colours on, get vocal and bring the boys home,” said McMillan.
The DHL Super Rugby Pacific Final will kick off at 7.05pm at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night.
Gallagher Chiefs team to face the Crusaders:
Aidan Ross (73) Samisoni Taukei'aho (76) George Dyer (20) Brodie Retallick (127) Tupou Vaa'i (43) Pita Gus Sowakula (68) Sam Cane (Co-Captain, 149) Luke Jacobson (62) Brad Weber (Co-Captain, 122) Damian McKenzie (110) Etene Nanai-Seturo (43) Anton Lienert-Brown (105) Alex Nankivell (69) Emoni Narawa (28) Shaun Stevenson (83)
Tyrone Thompson (14) Ollie Norris (44) John Ryan (16) Naitoa Ah Kuoi (48) Samipeni Finau (31) Cortez Ratima (25) Josh Ioane (10) Rameka Poihipi (29)
Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets.