Chiefs gamble as third choice hooker starts in Super Rugby Pacific final against Blues

Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan has sprung a surprise by naming third choice hooker Tyrone Thompson in his starting line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific Final against the Blues at Eden Park.

Thompson’s selection is a gamble as he has had limited game-time for the Hamilton-based outfit in 2024 and he comes in as a replacement for All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho who was injured in the Chiefs’ semi-final win over the Hurricanes.

Taukei’aho sustained a lower leg injury which put a damper on the Chiefs’ 30-19 triumph over their hosts in Wellington last Saturday.

The 26-year-old was injured midway through the opening half of that clash when he made a tackle while the Hurricanes were desperately trying to get back into the game after the Chiefs raced into a 17-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Bradley Slater, who came on as Taukei’aho’s replacement against the Hurricanes, continues as the back-up number two.

Slater was also forced off the field late on against the Hurricanes with a knee injury, which meant they finished that game without a specialist hooker, but he has been ruled fit to take his place on the Chiefs’ bench this weekend.

All Blacks flyer returns

Joining Thompson in the Chiefs’ run-on side is All Blacks flyer Shaun Stevenson, who is back at full-back after being a late withdrawal ahead of the Hurricanes encounter due to a hamstring injury.

Stevenson’s return means Etene Nanai-Seturo moves back to the left wing, after filling in at full-back last weekend while Daniel Rona is relegated to the bench.

The only other change to the Chiefs’ matchday squad sees Manaaki Selby-Rickit coming in as the replacement lock in place of Naitoa Ah Kuoi.

McMillan is looking forward to the final and believes the players who have been added to the Chiefs’ squad will give a good account of themselves.

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“We produced some good footy when it mattered and feel battle-hardened for a final. Our leaders have really stepped up, driven our preparation and led by example through their performances,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate to have lost some key players through injury, but no team has been immune to this, and you won’t see us worrying about something we can’t control. We are genuinely excited for the players who now get their opportunity. In Tyrone Thompson and Manaaki Selby-Rickit, we have two quality players who will serve the team extremely well.”

McMillan said his side’s preparations have gone well and they expect an electric atmosphere at a sold out Eden Park.

“The team are embracing finals week and look forward to what will be a massive occasion for rugby,” he added.

“The Blues have impressed with how they have gone about their work, establishing a harder edge under Vern whilst maintaining their ability to hurt you through their explosive backs.

“I can’t see them wavering from their willingness to kick long, pressure the ball and go to war through the middle of the park, so we at least know what’s coming our way.”

Chiefs team for Super Rugby Pacific Grand Final

Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Cortez Ratima, 8 Wallace Sititi, 7 Luke Jacobson (c), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 George Dyer, 2 Tyrone Thompson, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Jared Proffit, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Quinn Tupaea, 23 Daniel Rona

Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

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