With the change in alert levels, Hamilton currently sits in Level 2 and are unable to have a packed out stadium. It has been announced however, that Gallagher Chiefs members and stakeholders will have the opportunity to safely attend the game, with 700 tickets released on a ‘first in, first served’ basis on Tuesday evening (NZT). FMG Stadium Waikato will be split into zones. Each zone will be separated, with its own dedicated entry/exit point. So at least there will be a bit of noise for the teams from the stands.
Match Details: Friday 5 March, 7.05pm, FMG Stadium Waikato
Referee: Paul Williams
Won: Chiefs 18, Highlanders 16, 1 draw
Last match: Chiefs 31 Highlanders 33 on 19 July 2020 in Hamilton
Watch: Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand & overseas broadcast information HERE.
All eyes will be on interim head coach Clayton McMillan to see how he goes, with Warren Gatland committed to the British and Irish Lions. Having not won a game in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa last year, the Chiefs can only go up in 2021, but it will be a great test for McMillan. Like the other four teams in round one, he’ll have all his All Blacks available for their season-opener, including skipper Sam Cane who’s starting against the Highlanders. It’s a strong Chiefs outfit, and if McMillan can get them off to a solid start, they’ll go a long way in this competition.
GATLAND v IOANE
The former teammates will go head to head in Hamilton on Friday night, with both Bryn Gatland and Josh Ioane handed the starting pivot role for their respective sides. Gatland made the move north at the end of last season, seeking more game time at the Chiefs. Having come off the bench against the Crusaders last weekend, Ioane will be looking to make the Highlanders 10 jersey his own. It promises to be a great battle between two young and exciting first five-eighths.
FAKATAVA GETS THE NOD
In a surprise to some, Folau Fakatava will start ahead of Aaron Smith for the Highlanders on Friday. Smith recommitted to the Highlanders and New Zealand Rugby earlier this week until 2023 and hinted that if he’s to stay in good shape between now and then, he may need to play less minutes. So, step up to the plate Fakatava. He was last year’s Mitre 10 Cup Player of the Year (Duane Monkley Medal) having starred in an outstanding campaign for Hawke’s Bay and Tony Brown’s put his faith in the 21 year-old. It’s a masterstroke really, start with an incredibly talented and fresh number nine, before bringing on the world’s best halfback in the latter part of the game. Let’s see if it pays off.
The Highlanders are undefeated in their last four Super Rugby games against the Chiefs.
Lachlan Boshier was the first player to arrive at more rucks (102) than any other individual in the 2020 Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
Gallagher Chiefs: 1. Reuben O’Neill 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho 3. Sione Mafileo* 4. Tupou Vaa’i 5. Naitoa Ah Kuoi 6. Samipeni Finau** 7. Sam Cane (cc) 8. Luke Jacobson 9. Brad Weber (cc) 10. Bryn Gatland 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo 12. Anton Lienert-Brown 13. Sean Wainui 14. Jonah Lowe* 15. Damian McKenzie
Reserves: 16. Bradley Slater 17. Ollie Norris 18. Angus Ta’avao 19. Mitchell Brown 20. Mitchell Karpik 21. Xavier Roe** 22. Alex Nankivell 23. Shaun Stevenson
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs deubt
** denotes Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa debut
Speight’s Highlanders: 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Josh Dickson 5. Jack Regan 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Billy Harmon 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Folau Fakatava 10. Josh Ioane 11. Jona Nareki 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Ngatungane Punivai 14. Connor Garden-Bachop 15. Mitch Hunt
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Josh Hohneck 18. Jeff Thwaites 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit 20. Liam Squire 21. Aaron Smith (cc) 22. Solomon Alaimalo 23. Hugh Renton