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Chiefs rebuild combinations

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Sportal.co.nz     16 May 2013     Getty Images

While injuries continue to plague the defending Investec Super Rugby champions, that's never stopped Dave Rennie employing a barrage of tactical changes resulting in an average of six personnel changes per week.

Since falling to the Reds in round nine, the Chiefs have used five different midfield and front row combinations while their nine and ten have not played consecutive games together.

That is until they tackle the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium on Friday.

Having recovered from a broken jaw that saw him sidelined for six weeks, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is set to play back-to-back games inside five-eighth Aaron Cruden for the first time in almost two months.

Kerr-Barlow rated his comeback performance against the Force as 'rusty' but felt that it was generally a success.

The Chiefs' past five matches have been decided by less than nine points, including two losses, and saw them concede an unusually high amount of points - an average of 27.8 per game.

"We should have won by more," Kerr-Barlow told Sportal of their 22-21 win.

"We just need to fix a few things in our game and hopefully we can open up on a few teams in the next couple of games."

Kerr-Barlow has just three more games to prove to All Blacks selectors that he is worthy of selection for the first of three Tests against France, on June 8.

On Tuesday he was named alongside three other halfbacks in Steve Hansen's 38-strong squad for two training a camps at Mount Maunganui.

Team-mate Ben Afeaki, the only uncapped Chiefs player, was selected for the second time.

A broken arm ruled him out of contention for a Test spot against Ireland last year.

"I'm really keen to just get out there and play. We've got the Hurricanes then Crusaders; two really tough games," Afeaki said.

Also returning from injury, Afeaki (ankle) has completed just three full training sessions.

Quizzed on how he rates his chances for a debut against France he replied: "Hopefully I can just be fit and play my best."

This week he teams up with loosehead Pauliasi Manu and hooker Hika Elliott to oppose fellow All Black training squad members Ben Franks, Dane Coles and Jeff Toomaga-Allen.

Under Rennie's constantly changing structures, the trio have combined just twice before - in the two opening games against the Highlanders and Cheetahs.

For the first time in three weeks a new loose forward trio is set to take the field after news that Sam Cane (bulged disc) will be out for one week.

In his place, Tanerau Latimer is set for his fourth start at No 7.

The only other change comes at centre where Charlie Ngatai replaces Save Tokolua, who had been playing club rugby until called in to cover for Richard Kahui last week.

Tokula is joined on the bench by Hawke's Bay import Dan Waenga.

Chiefs: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Hika Elliot, 3.Ben Afeaki, 4.Craig Clarke (c), 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Liam Messam, 7.Tanerau Latimer, 8.Matt Vant Leven, 9.Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10.Aaron Cruden, 11.Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12.Bundee Aki, 13.Charlie Ngatai, 14.Lelia Masaga, 15.Robbie Robinson.

Reserves: 16.Mahonri Schwalger, 17.Ben Tameifuna, 18.Michael Fitzgerald, 19.Nick Crosswell, 20.Augustine Pulu, 21.Dan Waenga, 22.Save Tokula.