Damian McKenzie to play fullback for Chiefs

Damian McKenzie. Photo: Getty
Damian McKenzie. Photo: Getty
Warren Gatland has confirmed his plans for Damian McKenzie in this year's Chiefs campaign, handing the returning All Black the No 15 jersey for their pre-season match against the Blues.

McKenzie has spent the past two seasons with the Chiefs as their first-choice No 10, but that experiment appeared to be over when the club signed former All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden for the upcoming season.

It was confirmed in the team list for today's pre-season tussle in Waihi, with McKenzie named at fullback despite Cruden not playing. It will be McKenzie's first game in nine months, after he ruptured an ACL on April 13 last year.

McKenzie's return to fullback is one of a number of positional changes worth tracking in pre-season fixtures - elsewhere the Highlanders are moving incumbent No 10 Josh Ioane to second five-eighth for their match against the Waratahs and giving new recruit Mitchell Hunt the start at first five-eighth.

The Chiefs have named Bay of Plenty No 10 Kaleb Trask in the halves alongside Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi for their first and only pre-season fixture, with the side meeting the Blues in the opening round of the regular season on January 31.

Gatland named a 35-man team for the pre-season, which did not include All Blacks who featured in the Rugby World Cup campaign and will be played over four 20-minute quarters.

With captain Sam Cane unavailable, Mitchell Karpik will join Mitchell Brown on the side of the scrum, while Pita Gus Sowakula has been given the first opportunity to lock down the vacant No 8 jersey, with Tyler Ardron remaining at lock.

As expected, Samisoni Taukei'aho starts at hooker in place of the injured Nathan Harris, who will miss an extended period of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Chiefs fans won't have to wait long to see young gun Quinn Tupaea in action, as he starts in the midfield alongside Tumua Manu with Anton Lienert-Brown unavailable. Tupaea isn't expected to feature heavily in the Chiefs' campaign this season, but has been earmarked as an important piece of the club's future.

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Sean Wainui, Quinn Tupaea, Tumua Manu, Shaun Stevenson, Kaleb Trask, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Mitchell Karpik, Mitchell Brown, Tyler Ardron, Laghlan McWhannell, Reuben O'Neill, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ryan Coxon. Reserves: Bradley Slater, Ollie Norris, Ross Geldenhuys, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Lachlan Boshier, Lisati Milo-Harris, Orbyn Leger, Solomon Alaimalo, Tiaan Falcon, Leroy Carter, James Thompson, Tupou Vaa'i, Aidan Ross, Simon Parker, Josh Lord, Donald Maka, Bailyn Sullivan, Dylan Nel, Robb Cobb, Alex Nankivell.

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