Balance the key in Chiefs selection

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Gatland will introduce three debutants with Waikato's Quinn Tupaea at centre, Bay of Plenty's Kaleb Trask at first five-eighths and Wellington lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi coming off the bench.

 

Gatland was at pains to point out the balance of the selection had been centred around the minutes required to meet the All Blacks' measured returns to play and trying to pick a strong team for what they were expecting to be a tough game in Auckland.

 

"I have to stress, it's really about looking at the balance of the squad.

 

"Aaron Cruden hasn't had any time with us at the moment, his insurance has just come through so he's [now] available to play, so we've got to look at the balance of those guys having 40 minutes, who's going to come off the bench and replace them.

 

"It's a great opportunity for Kaleb to start. We're not trying to put him under any pressure, just enjoy the occasion.

 

"We have an exciting squad and we believe the team we have chosen reflects this.

 

"It is a great opportunity for our rookies to pull on the Chiefs jersey for the first time in what is expected to be a great competitive derby between two rival sides. We know the Blues will be a good sturdy challenge first up but one the boys and fans are excited about."

 

Like the Blues, the Chiefs have gone for mobility in the pack with Mitchell Brown pairing with Tyler Ardron at lock while Mitchell Karpik will start on the openside flank with Sam Cane playing No.8.

 

Damian McKenzie was subject to the All Blacks' minutes requirements and after coming back from injury it was felt best to start him at fullback, to give him more room, time and space and to be comfortable there leaving him to be considered for first five-eighths later in the season, Gatland said.

 

He was expecting the Blues to be more basic in their play. They had tried to be fancy over the last 10 years without success and he felt they would look to be more direct in their approach.

 

Trask said he hadn't expected he would get his chance in Super Rugby but was delighted to have the opportunity.

 

He was especially enjoying the chance to work with All Blacks Damian McKenzie and Aaron Cruden.

 

McKenzie had special reason to be starting again, it was against the Blues last year that he suffered his season-ending injury.

 

Playing the warm-up game against the Blues had been invaluable and he was ready for action and was feeling confident ahead of Friday.

 

"Obviously there is a lot of depth in the back three this year so everyone is fighting for a position so it is keeping us honest. From what we've done so far we're pretty excited to be out there to play rugby and throw the ball round and enjoy ourselves," he said.

 

McKenzie said Trask had a very good pre-season, was a mature player who led the team around well and he had the side's backing to do the job and they were all there to help him as well.

 

The Chiefs team is: 1.Aidan Ross, 2.Samisoni Taukei'aho, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Tyler Ardron, 5.Mitchell Brown, 6.Lachlan Boshier, 7.Mitchell Karpik, 8.Sam Cane (captain), 9.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10.Kaleb Trask, 11.Solomon Alaimalo, 12.Alex Nankiville, 13.Quinn Tupaea, 14.Sean Wainui, 15.Damian McKenzie.

 

Substitutes: 16.Bradley Slater, 17.Atu Moli, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20.Pita Gus Sowakula, 21.Brad Weber, 22.Aaron Cruden, 23.Anton Lienert-Brown.

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