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Chiefs look to maintain momentum

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Lynn McConnell     16 Mar 2017     Getty Images

Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes said the Rebels were fast starters and in both their losses they had been leading at the end of the first quarter and the Chiefs were expecting them to have worked on extending that dominance during their bye week and for that to mean an 80-minute will be needed to beat them.

"We're starting to set some high standards and we've got to make sure we keep ramping that up week to week," he said.

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At the same time, the Chiefs are looking to some of their younger personnel to lead the challenge.

Hooker Sabastian Siataga has been given a start, after only coming into the squad a few weeks ago as injury cover at hooker. Hika Elliott has had to cover much of the work load so has been given the chance for a rest.

"I've been quite impressed with some of his [Siataga's] play during the week and he's shown some good subtle skills and rugby and it's just a case of finding out a little more about him and seeing how he goes," Barnes said.

Some good combinations were growing in the tight five and the Chiefs respected the Rebels' scrum and while they had hoped to give younger players a chance, they couldn't put a young hooker in while also making other changes in the front row because it destabilised the balance of the tight forwards.

There wasn't a lot between the loose forwards. Lachlan Boshier was given a start two weeks ago, Mitchell Brown last week and Tom Sanders had been working hard at training and was getting the start this week.
Flanker Sam Cane will have another start on his road to full fitness.

"Sam is a class act and he's still not at his best, but even not at his best is still a good performance so he was one of our players of the day last week. It was a great effort. I had no intention of leaving him out there for the full 80 but the game was in the balance all the way through and he went the distance which shows what type of guy he is."

Barnes said, although Michael Leitch had a suspension this week it had always been intended to play Liam Messam at No.8 in this game and it was a reflection of the depth in the squad that they were able to rotate fresh players each week.

The game was also a chance to play Damian McKenzie in his preferred position of first five-eighths.

"Again, it's got nothing to do with the way Aaron's [Cruden] been playing, it's more to do with giving another guy an opportunity and just seeing what he brings to the table so when we get down the track if we do take a ding at 10 you've got someone who's actually had playing experience in that position," he said.

It was also a chance to have Stephen Donald as an experienced hand outside him, especially after Donald had contributed so well when playing almost all of last weekend's game as a substitute for Tim Nanai-Williams, who was injured early in the game.

Wing Solomon Alaimalo gets his Super Rugby starting debut as a result of James Lowe suffering a niggle in his back and Barnes said he was looking forward to seeing Alaimalo play because he had been impressing at training and would excite watchers.

Shaun Stevenson was the beneficiary at fullback with McKenzie's switch and he was champing at the bit to play.

"We would like to have given him an opportunity before now. He's ready to go and he'll light it up just like Damian does from the back," Barnes said.