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There’s plenty to get excited about when the Gallagher Chiefs take on the Western Force at 7:35pm this Easter Saturday.

Three players look set to make their debuts, Chiefs stalwart Stephen Donald will don the Chiefs jersey for the first time since 2011 and there’s a brand new state of the art big screen installed to enhance the viewing experience for supporters in attendance on Saturday at FMG Stadium Waikato.

Fresh home from a whirlwind international tour to South Africa and Argentina where the team recorded two important victories against the Southern Kings and Jaguares, the New Zealand Conference leaders are eager to put on a winning performance and secure their first victory at home in 2016.

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has made minimal changes to the team which started against the Jaguares last Saturday in Buenos Aires. In the forwards, Siate Tokolahi is promoted from the bench to start alongside Mitchell Graham and Hika Elliot. With Johan Bardoul sidelined with a broken thumb, Taleni Seu gets an opportunity to impress at lock. Seu teams up in the second row with Michael Allardice, who makes his fifth consecutive start for the Chiefs. Loose forwards Tom Sanders, Sam Cane and Michael Leitch combine for the second week in a row.

There are just two changes in the backs, with Brad Weber to start at halfback and Seta Tamanivalu to wear jersey 13, replacing Anton Lienert-Brown who is unavailable for selection due to a minor knee injury. First five-eighth Aaron Cruden, wing James Lowe, second five-eighth Charlie Ngatai and fullback Damian McKenzie offer continuity and confidence, starting for the fifth consecutive week in a row. Sam McNicol has earned his second start following a strong debut performance for the Chiefs against the Jaguares, contributing to the 30-26 scoreline with a brilliant try.

There are wholesale changes in the reserves with only hooker Rhys Marshall backing up from last Saturday’s game against the Jaguares. 28-year old Bay of Plenty prop Siegfried Fisi’ihoi comes onto the bench to replace Pauliasi Manu who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury at training on Wednesday. Debutant Fisi’ihoi joins Marshall and Atu Moli as front row cover. James Tucker provides second row cover with Counties Manukau flanker and debutant Sam Henwood rounding out the forward reserves. 

Nippy Manawatu halfback Kayne Hammington has had an exciting week, with the 25-year old getting called into the Chiefs squad for the season and making the playing-23. Veteran utility back Stephen Donald is in line to play his 86th game for the Gallagher Chiefs, five seasons after he last appeared for the side. 27-year old Counties Manukau back Toni Pulu has battled his way back from an ankle injury and will make his debut for the Chiefs should he take the field. 

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said: “The past couple of days has been a lot about recovery and clarity. We have a big training day today in preparation for a side we’ve always battled against and who’ll be looking to bounce back from last week’s final 20 minutes. While unbeaten on the road, we’re keen to front at home for our family, friends and supporters, and we’ve brought in fresh legs to help with this.”

The changes extend beyond the team with supporters at Saturday’s game set to be the first to see the brand new big screen in action. The 70 square metre second screen is located at the western end of the stadium in the Green Zone embankment area. The state of the art screen will enhance the viewing experience for fans with crystal clear replays and entertainment playing out for all to see.

The Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Western Force is:

1.       Mitchell Graham (15)

2.       Hika Elliot (90)

3.       Siate Tokolahi (21)

4.       Michael Allardice (11)

5.       Taleni Seu (5)

6.       Tom Sanders (3)

7.       Sam Cane (69) co-captain

8.       Michael Leitch (16)

9.       Brad Weber (28)

10.   Aaron Cruden (60) co-captain

11.   James Lowe (25)

12.   Charlie Ngatai (35)

13.   Seta Tamanivalu (10)

14.   Sam McNicol (2)

15.   Damian McKenzie (20)

RESERVES:

16.   Rhys Marshall (26)

17.   Atu Moli (1)

18.   Siegfried Fisi’ihoi**

19.   James Tucker (1)

20.   Sam Henwood**

21.   Kayne Hammington**

22.   Stephen Donald (85)

23.   Toni Pulu**

( ) = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets

**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut

Not considered for selection: Nepo Laulala, Mitchell Karpik, Andrew Horrell, Augustine Pulu, Dominic Bird, Shaun Stevenson, Brodie Retallick, Tevita Koloamatangi, Nathan Harris, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Pauliasi Manu.

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