With DHL Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals kicking off at FMG Stadium Waikato next weekend, this round will see many Gallagher Chiefs players get some beneficial time on the park, especially those that have returned from injury.
It allows players to get valuable minutes in alternative positions for the first time this season. In particular, Naitoa Ah Kuoi slots into the loose forwards after an outstanding season so far at lock, sitting second on the table for average lineout steals (1.4 steals per 80 minutes). Rameka Poihipi also makes a shift from his midfield role to start in the number 10 jersey.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said: “We are looking forward to playing the Western Force who have proven to be a difficult team to beat in Perth. They are well-coached, play with flair and passion, and in front of a home crowd will be a fierce challenge.
“Clearly, we have taken the opportunity this week to freshen up some frontline players, which is purely a strategic decision. We have played some incredibly physical games over the last few weeks, and this along with the travel to and from Perth and a short turn-around to the quarterfinal, resting them became a bit of a no-brainer.”
Named in the front row are Ollie Norris and John Ryan at prop, with Tyrone Thompson at hooker, while Laghlan McWhannell starts at lock again this week alongside Tupou Vaa'i who is back from All Blacks rest.
Simon Parker lines up with Ah Kuoi in the loose forwards, with Samipeni Finau moving to the No.8 jersey.
Named as halfbacks are two players with some of the highest passing accuracy in the competition. Starting is Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who will play his 50th game for the Gallagher Chiefs this weekend, boasting a 98.6% passing accuracy to sit in fourth place on the table. One spot ahead, with a 99.2% passing accuracy, is Cortez Ratima who will provide impact off the bench.
In the midfield, Anton Lienert-Brown will captain the side from second-five with Alex Nankivell named at centre. Liam Coombes-Fabling will be on the wing with Etene Nanai-Seturo, and Shaun Stevenson at fullback.
In the reserves, Bradley Slater, Jared Proffit and Atunaisa Moli will get invaluable minutes as support in the front row, while Manaaki Selby-Rickit will run on at lock, and Pita Gus Sowakula for the loose forwards.
Making his return from a long-term injury, first-five Rivez Reihana will look to log some essential minutes ahead of playoffs, as will Lalomilo Lalomilo in the midfield.
“Most of the players we are resting have helped us prepare in Perth and will head home in advance of the weekend’s game to spend time with family and recharge the batteries,” said McMillan.
“For those that have remained – our expectations as a collective and as individuals are clear. Points won’t change anything for us but pride in our performance will.”
The Gallagher Chiefs final match before the playoffs kicks off at 12:00am (midnight) NZT Sunday 4 June at HBF Park, Perth.
Gallagher Chiefs team to face the Western Force:
1: Ollie Norris (41)
2: Tyrone Thompson (12)
3: John Ryan (13)
4: Laghlan McWhannell (6)
5: Tupou Vaa'i (41)
6: Naitoa Ah Kuoi (45)
7: Simon Parker (7)
8: Samipeni Finau (28)
9: Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (49)
10: Rameka Poihipi (26)
11: Etene Nanai-Seturo (40)
12: Anton Lienert-Brown (102, Captain)
13: Alex Nankivell (67)
14: Liam Coombes-Fabling (9)
15: Shaun Stevenson (80)
Reserves: Bradley Slater (47), Jared Proffit (3), Atunaisa Moli (54), Manaaki Selby-Rickit (25), Pita Gus Sowakula (65), Cortez Ratima (22), Rivez Reihana (8), Lalomilo Lalomilo (1)