Gallagher Chiefs named for their 2021 season opener against the Highlanders

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While the game will be played under COVID Level 2 restrictions, the selected twenty-three will be eager to impress fans watching at home, along with the restricted number in attendance made up of player’s whanau, members and sponsors. Five debutants feature in the match day twenty-three. Sione Mafileo, Bryn Gatland and Jonah Lowe will pull on the Gallagher Chiefs jersey for the first time, named in the starting XV alongside loose forward Samipeni Finau who will make his Sky Super Rugby debut in jersey number six. While halfback Xavier Roe is in-line to make his Sky Super Rugby debut off the bench.

Loosehead prop Reuben O’Neill, hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and tighthead debutant Mafileo will pack down a powerful front row. A youthful locking duo of All Black Tupou Vaa’i and Naitoa Ah Kuoi will complete the tight five. Former New Zealand Under 20’s loose forward Samipeni will be joined by Gallagher Chiefs Co-Captain Sam Cane on the openside and Luke Jacobson will pack down the scrum at number eight, completing a formidable forward pack.

In the backs, Gallagher Chiefs Co-Captain Brad Weber will start at halfback, combining with Gatland at first five-eighth for his first game in the Gallagher Chiefs jersey. All Black midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown will start at second five-eighth, with Māori All Black Sean Wainui named at centre. Etene Nanai-Seturo will light up the left wing, with Lowe debuting on the right and All Black fullback Damian McKenzie will complete an exciting backline.

The Gallagher Chiefs bench provides a balanced mix of experience and youth with hooker Bradley Slater joined by rookie Ollie Norris and Angus Ta’avao. Mitchell Brown and Mitchell Karpik will inject energy off the bench in jersey’s 19 and 20 respectively. An exciting backline trio of debutant hopeful Roe, midfielder Alex Nankivell and utility back Shaun Stevenson will complete the twenty-three.

McMillan congratulated the debutants on their upcoming achievements.

“It’s a great privilege to be able to pull on the Gallagher Chiefs jersey and it is a special occasion for them and their whānau. We are excited to see what impact they will have on Friday’s game.”

McMillan said the team were eager to kick their 2021 campaign off.

“A significant amount of effort has gone into our pre-season and there is a genuine excitement leading into our first game.

“It is important all that hard work and energy manifests into a performance we can all be proud of. We know that a lot of our fans are disappointed they cannot attend this Friday, but we are grateful we can have a select group of sponsors, members, and whānau there to support our team,” said McMillan.

Gallagher Chiefs:

1. Reuben O’Neill (10)
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (36)
3. Sione Mafileo*
4. Tupou Vaa’i (7)
5. Naitoa Ah Kuoi (12)
6. Samipeni Finau**
7. Sam Cane (122) (cc)
8. Luke Jacobson (25)
9. Brad Weber (85) (cc)
10. Bryn Gatland*
11. Etene Nanai-Seturo (14)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (81)
13. Sean Wainui (38)
14. Jonah Lowe*
15. Damian McKenzie (84)


16. Bradley Slater (15)
17. Ollie Norris (4)
18. Angus Ta’avao (35)
19. Mitchell Brown (45)
20. Mitchell Karpik (29)
21. Xavier Roe**
22. Alex Nankivell (32)
23. Shaun Stevenson (52)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets

*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut

**denotes Sky Super Rugby debut

Unavailable for selection:

Atu Moli (hips), Aidan Ross (knee), Laghlan McWhannell (knee), Lachlan Boshier (foot), Pita Gus Sowakula (knee), Kaleb Trask (knee), Quinn Tupaea (hamstring), Chase Tiatia (concussion)